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Should You Be a Mentor?

"Success without a successor is just a form of failure." Kerrie Mullins-Gunst

If you are good at what you do, the time will surely come when you are asked to act as someone else's mentor. However, before you agree to be a mentor it is important to clarify exactly what role you are expected to play.

The role of a mentor can vary considerably depending on the purpose of a formal mentoring program or on the expectations your potential mentee might have in an informal situation.

A mentor might be expected to assist in specific skill development, offer advice, induct a new recruit into the organisation's culture, encourage and support or even protect a mentee while they take learning risks, learn new skills or identify and solve particular problems.

You may even need to help a mentee become more self-aware, identifying areas for personal growth and development or confronting negative or self-sabotaging behaviours.

Some industries or professional associations establish mentoring programs to assist members to gain accreditation or credentials. Whatever the exact role, a mentor needs to make the time to be available, to listen and discuss options and to support their mentee's decisions.

Good mentors can be drawn from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, according to the role they are expected to play. If you are approaching retirement you will have much wisdom and valuable experience to share with your mentee. However, even if you are similar in age to your prospective mentee, you may offer helpful insight and encouragement.

Although a mentor should have substantial experience and expertise in their relevant area, it isn't necessary to be the best, or to know absolutely everything, in your field.

The point of mentoring is not just to pour all your knowledge into the head of your mentee. Mentoring offers the opportunity to share some of the less tangible dimensions of your experience, perspective and understanding with your mentor in a way that contributes to the development of their full and unique potential. So it is always important that a mentor have advanced communication and interpersonal skills.

Listening, questioning, challenging and offering feedback and support are central to your role as a mentor. Each of these needs to be done with sensitivity and in a timely and appropriate way so that your mentee grows in independence and understanding, and develops in maturity and skill with your encouragement.

Although emphasis is often placed on the benefits of mentoring for a mentee, mentoring also offers a range of personal and professional rewards for the mentor. If the opportunity arises for you to act as a mentor, don't miss it.

Quick Tips on Mentoring

  • Don't wait to be asked. Offer to mentor someone. Good leaders are always on the lookout for potential mentees. The best are individuals who are willing to take risks in furthering their own learning, who seek out responsibility and take on challenging tasks, ask for feedback and who are committed to their own improvement.
  • Be selective about who you agree to mentor. If you feel uncomfortable with a potential mentee, or for some reason you don't respect or trust them, or if you are truly too busy to commit the time required, don't hesitate to decline. A reluctant mentor is of little value to anyone.
  • If you are unable or unwilling to take on a full mentoring role for someone, consider whether you can offer just a little of your time and experience. Perhaps you can make time for a short telephone consultation, have a chat over a coffee or give them the opportunity to ask a couple of specific questions. Or perhaps you could introduce them to someone else who may be willing to act as their mentor.
  • Members of the Leadership Skill Center have access to a free course on the Secrets of Mentoring. Join for free now to enrol in it.


Copyright © Kerrie Mullins-Gunst

Kerrie Mullins-Gunst is an expert in all the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours you need to mentor, manage and lead your people, and one of Australia's leading mentors, planning facilitators and female business speakers. For your free Top Leadership Tips Workbook and other resources or to listen to her podcast, visit http://leadershipskillcenter.com or call her on 61-3-9859 3924.

This article is copyright, but permission will usually be given to reproduce it if requested, provided a notice such as that above is included. Contact us to request permission.

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