If you've ever had a mentor, you know how richly rewarding a good mentor relationship can be. In fact, it’s no secret that having a mentor plays an important role in achieving a successful career. Your mentor likely provided guidance, perspective, and inspiration along the way.
But while rewarding, the mentor role is also a big responsibility. Many mentor relationships start because a person is the direct manager of a specific employee or group of employees. The qualities that make a good mentor can often be linked to the qualities of a good manager. A mentor needs to be an attentive listener and make personal connections with their mentee. This means getting to know their goals, hopes, and dreams; to ensure you can provide them with guidance that will most benefit them.
A mentor needs to follow through on commitments. If you say you will be available when your mentee has a question or needs help, you need to be there during those times. A mentor should be empathetic but also encouraging. Often a new employee who is lost or struggling needs a positive boost to turn their day around. A negative mentor will result in a discouraged employee who complains about their issue without resolution.
Most importantly a mentor needs to know to honor boundaries and confidentiality. If a problem is presented, you need to have discretion. Knowing if the situation should stay between two parties or if other employees such as HR or upper management need to get involved is key. You need to be upfront with the person who came seeking your assistance about what they will do should a serious problem arise.
You don't have to be an employee's manager to be a mentor. Many of the best mentor relationships stem from people who do not directly work with or for one another. Being open to sharing knowledge with other employees and being a sounding board for their struggles or questions can foster a relationship.
Some employees do a great job and even enjoy being the mentor to employees without being officially designated an actual “trainer” for the person. As a manager, know who these people are in your company and suggest these go-to people for newer or struggling employees.
While being a mentor is a big responsibility, there is some responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the mentee. Being a person on the other side of the advice also takes a commitment. As a mentee, know that someone is more apt to share their knowledge with you if they feel you are sincere and truly listen to their advice. New employees rarely get sage advice from the veterans if they walk around with an air about them that they already know everything they could possibly ever need.
People who have been at companies for quite some time can not only share their job knowledge, but also know the personalities, hot buttons and quirks of coworkers and other managers. Mentors learned their wisdom by making mistakes themselves.
Taking a lesson and understanding those mistakes can help you avoid repeating history. Seeking a mentor and access to this knowledge is also beneficial, as such advice is rarely found in your company's handbook or policy manual.