Being a mentor gives you the opportunity to shape the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. And while being a mentor is beneficial to your mentee, there are also a number of benefits you can get from being a mentor, including enhancing your leadership skills and experiencing the joy you get from giving back. Giving advice can also help you climb the career ladder.
But before you agree to be anyone’s mentor, it’s important to know if you’re truly ready for the task. GOBankingRates spoke to career experts and experienced mentors to find out the signs that you’re ready to enter a mentor/mentee relationship if you’re looking to grow your career and help others.
What Does It Mean to Be a Mentor?
Before you can know if you’re ready to be a mentor, it’s important to understand what a mentor really is.
“Mentoring is when we help someone less developed than ourselves in a specific topic or area of interest,” said Donna Miller, former executive coach and CEO of Purse Power. “Our role is to leave [a mentee] in a better position to perform in the future than when we first began working with them. We act as a thought partner to help the mentee assess their situation, identify their goals and develop a plan of action. It is the mentor’s job to help the mentee see the path forward by helping them to identify possible areas of focus, assess their opportunities and risks, evaluate alternatives, determine the measures of success and decide on a course of action. Mentors share their learnings and wisdom in a constructive, helpful and generous way.”
Now that you know what a mentor really is, keep reading to find out the signs that you’re ready to take on that responsibility.
You've Accomplished a Lot in Your Career
Before you become a mentor, you should have climbed the career ladder enough yourself to have practical wisdom you can pass along.
“You don’t have to be a C-suite executive, but you do need some experience under your belt that has taught you valuable lessons,” said Ken Coleman, career expert and host of “The Ken Coleman Show” radio program. “Mentors can be highly skilled at a craft or well-known for their leadership qualities. You want to be able to have been in the same shoes as that person you’re mentoring, so experience ‘climbing the mountain’ is required.”
You Strongly Feel That You Have Wisdom to Impart
Nicole Coustier, a career repositioning, networking and management strategy coach at Aurelian Coaching, believes that there are two major signs that you’re ready to be a mentor.
“One is that you have a strong opinion, memory or experience when you see someone pursuing a path toward a goal,” she said. “You find yourself thinking or feeling, ‘Oh, I remember what that was like! I sure wish I’d known then…'”
You Don't Have Any Ulterior or Personal Motive
The second sign, according to Coustier, “is that you have no other interest in the engagement other than in the other person’s success. In contrast to networking and other types of business interactions, there is rarely a quid pro quo in mentorship. When you have the other person’s best interests at heart and do not actively seek to gain from mentoring someone, congratulations — you will likely find yourself in exactly that role.”
You've Experienced Success, but Also Failure
Learning and growing from failure is essential to being a good mentor, said Donna Shannon, president of The Personal Touch Career Services.
“In martial arts, the word ‘sensei’ is synonymous with ‘teacher.’ However, the real meaning of the word is ‘one who has gone before.’ This is true for mentors as well,” said Shannon. “To be an effective mentor, you need more than a college degree — it requires life experience, both in terms of successes and failures. When you can share from both sides of the coin, you truly have something special to offer a mentee.”
You Know Enough About a Mentee's Field to Set Actionable Goals
“Solid knowledge in your field or in business operations overall is a must,” said Shannon. “Find ways to stretch your mentee in new ways of thinking, tied back to quantifiable key performance indicators so they can have real goals to work towards.”
You Can Easily Detect When Someone Less Experienced Is Making a Mistake
Business coach and speaker Lindsay Anvik doesn’t believe that time is a good qualifier for who’s ready to be a mentor, but notes that there are other ways to tell when you’re ready.
“I do think that you need to be a point in your career where you are watching the younger or newer employees make mistakes,” she said. “If you notice things they could be doing differently, it is an indication that you have enough knowledge to be of value.”
You Fully Understand the Lessons You've Learned From Missteps in Your Own Career
Being open about mistakes you’ve made in your career is a big part of being a mentor.
“Someone is ready to be a mentor if they’ve made some bad choices and learned from them,” said Anvik. “The ability to learn, adapt and grow shows maturity, strength of character and a lot of self-awareness.”
You Feel a Strong Desire to Help Others
Early in your career, it’s okay to be selfish. But you might reach a certain point when you feel compelled to give back.
“After a certain amount of success, a lot of people feel almost called to send the elevator back down to help others,” said Anvik.
You've Developed a High EQ and Appreciation for Differences
“Good mentors realize that there are a number of ways of looking at anything, and that different people can be highly successful in very different ways,” said Miller. “Mentors must have enough insight into themselves and a high enough emotional IQ to value those that think differently than they do. Mentors must recognize that they can help others play to their strengths, rather than trying to mold them into their own image.”
You Can Dedicate a Set Amount of Time Each Week or Month to Mentor Someone
Before you agree to be someone’s mentor, be sure that you’re ready and able to give them the time they require.
“It’s the first critical requirement needed to be a mentor,” said Nishank Khanna, chief marketing officer at Clarify Capital. “When you take on the responsibility to help someone grow, you should have the capacity to be there for them when needed.”
You Are a Good Listener and Ask the Right Questions
You should be able to speak to your mentee in a way that’s most constructive for them.
“Mentoring is all about asking the right questions that makes someone think at a deeper level,” said Khanna. “Like a therapist, you also need to be an active listener to let your mentee speak their mind.”
You're OK With Sharing Your Secrets
Everyone has their own “secrets to success” — and you should only agree to be a mentor if you’re truly willing to share yours.
You’re ready to be a mentor when “you no longer fear someone taking over your role, and instead want to show others how to succeed,” said Jennifer Magas, clinical associate professor at Pace University and vice president of Magas Media Consultants, who often mentors others.
You've Been a Mentee Yourself
Sometimes you learn how to be a mentor by being a mentee. That was the case for Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls.
“I started a global branding and marketing firm 18 years ago, and when I was just starting out, I signed up for a mentoring program through a networking group I was part of,” she said. “At the end of the program everyone filled out surveys, and my mentor had written that in reality I had mentored her — not vice versa — so the following year they assigned me the mentor role. I have been a mentor ever since. I have learned that age is not the determining factor to become a mentor. It is about a willingness to share your knowledge and lessons learned so that you can help others.”
The Timing Is Right
“You don’t necessarily have to reach a certain point in your career to mentor someone — it just happens when the time is right,” said Dennis Bartel, CEO and co-founder of Biz Text. “Sometimes someone will reach out to you. In other cases, you might see someone struggling or understand that an employee or business contact wants to succeed, but needs an extra push. Sometimes you’ll get an opportunity to mentor someone when you’re feeling stuck yourself. When that happens, mentoring can help both you and your mentee overcome the challenges you face. You’ll know when the time is right.”
How to Be a Good Mentor
If all of the previous statements apply to you, congratulations — you’re ready to be a mentor. But once you take on that role, what’s really expected of you? These are the basic steps you should take when you become someone’s mentor:
Find a mentee you connect with personally. This should be someone you genuinely want to help, whose interest and goals align with your own.
Figure out what it is they need. Talk to your mentee about where they are in the career, and where they want to be. Then figure out actionable steps they can take to get there.
Set regular meetings. Check in with your mentee regularly about the progress they have made with each of the steps that will lead them to their career goal. These meetings can be done in person, on the phone or via email if that’s what works best for each of you.
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