Five Tips for Mentors


This article originally appeared on the LinkedIn Publishing Platform and was republished here with permission.

I have recently been thinking about the critical role of mentors in our society.

There comes a point in many people’s careers when they elevate from mentee to mentor. It is a milestone which in many ways marks the transition from manager to true leader. I regard the opportunity to become a mentor—a trusted advisor—as a gift and a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

However, I find it puzzling that so many senior people in business struggle to embrace the role willingly and with gusto. When I talk with those people about why they do not mentor, I frequently receive reasons littered with feelings of unease and doubt. They feel uncomfortable with the idea of offering career advice to a young professional who does not work directly for them. How could they offer guidance to a person who works outside of their own professional context? That is the point, I tell them. And it is not all about giving advice, or telling someone what to do. Yet, reluctance in many persists.

So, in the spirit of dispelling these misconceptions, and based on my 20-plus years of experience in mentoring people from all walks of life and professions, here are my five guiding principles for the budding mentor.

1 You do not need to know all the answers. The role of the mentor is to provoke the individual into thinking about what they should be considering when faced with an issue or circumstance. The best mentors are those who say the least, but provide a sense of conscience that the individual may, or may not, be taking the correct path.

2 Ask the right questions. Sometimes the mentee is so entrenched in an issue, incessantly thinking about it and drawing negative conclusions, that they have overwhelmed any potential for a rational perspective. Asking considered questions can help encourage the individual out of their cocoon, and pull free of the destructive bunker-mentality. It should help them start thinking differently about whatever it is that they are facing.

3 Avoid over-mentoring. A lot of people fall into the trap of collecting mentors, building a stable of experienced people that they regularly turn to for guidance, to avoid ever having to think for themselves. So, upon meeting with your mentees, ask them if they have anyone else performing a similar role in their lives. Also, do not be overly accessible. It will not help them in the long run as, again, they will be in a position to think for themselves.

4 Do not be afraid to share anecdotal advice. Sometimes fledgling professionals believe what they are feeling or facing is unique to them. Chances are what they are going through is not uncommon, and might be something you have encountered yourself. Relating to them through anecdotal advice, sharing insights on common experiences and challenges—swapping war stories, if you like—can help build a real bond, enlighten the individual’s perspective and help build trust between the two of you.

5 Mentoring is not the same as managing. Unlike a manager, it is important for a mentor to create a relationship grounded in independence. Maintaining objectivity is essential for the meetings to be worthwhile for both the mentor and mentee. You can become close, but ensure it is not at the expense of why you’re sitting across the table from each other. Substance and internal challenge is a stronger beast than positive reinforcement for the sake of it.

To me, whether you are in business, politics, sports or the community, if you are in a leadership position, you have an undeniable responsibility to make yourself available for less experienced individuals to tap into your wisdom and experience. In the spirit of mentoring, I hope my sugges-tions offer some guidance to those of you wanting to guide.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2015 issue of the Toastmaster magazine.

About the Author

Alex Malley

is chief executive officer of the multinational organization CPA Australia, author of the bestselling book The Naked CEO and host of the leadership television series The Bottom Line. He has addressed business and leadership events throughout Asia-Pacific, and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.