Our natural inclination is to request mentoring from someone we admire and feel comfortable with. That is often the first mistake – we do not grow in comfort; we grow more in situations where people push our boundaries and our buttons. The ideal coaching partnership is for two people of opposite profiles to work together, as the learning then becomes symbiotic. So often someone may also ask someone to mentor them because they are senior or in the position that they would like to eventually be in. That too does not necessarily make them their best mentor.
The mentor needs to look at the potential and the progress plan of the mentee. Are you really the right person to assist? Sometimes you may be able to impart sufficient wisdom in one conversation and be brave enough to suggest professional guidance. The first conversation should start with the mentor asking, “What do you want?” and then, “What do you actually need?”
Do not allow mentoring to be simply a series of conversations. Tasks bring the process to life. Be mindful of making the sessions too personal or trying to transfer your personal style to someone else. If you are warm and engaging, it is absolutely fine if someone else actually gets to the point.
Choose your venue carefully. Whilst coffee shops and restaurants are pleasant, it is advisable to be in a confined, businesslike area that allows you to make better use of the time and to focus on the process. If you are trying to help someone elevate themselves to board level, work in a boardroom. The more tangible the process and plan, recorded in writing or audio, the more likely you are to see potential developed. Know that whilst it is vital to have good structures in place, there will be surprises along the way and it is also good to let the process evolve naturally.
There are many ways of becoming a mentor – there are incubator programmes in many educational institutions and academies. There are mentorship online directories, alumni programmes, development forums, trade associations, industry bodies and networking associations. Put yourself out there. The old adage: “When you are ready to learn, the teacher appears”. Be that teacher.