Much like leadership coaching and Bitcoin, mentorship is much-talked about but not widely understood.

What's the difference between mentoring a colleague and simply making a few introductions for them?

How can you impact someone's prospects for the good?

What should you do to prepare for a mentorship meeting, if anything?

 

Mentorship is about a lot more than making a few introductions and telling some stories. We compiled a few pointers to get you on the right track:

 

1. Give positive feedback, when it's due. It's easy to assume that someone who performs well is as confident in their abilities as they seem. If you notice them going above and beyond, tell them about it. Keep it specific and meaningful versus the easy-to-ignore throwaway praise like "Great job." 

2. Ask them about their goals. Few people will take time to listen, particularly if the mentee is junior within their company. Maybe they don't know what their career goals are or have given them little thought. Perhaps they're set on being what they think they need to be versus what they're truly gifted at - it's easy to overlook a rare skill when everyone around you seems to value something different.

Be the person who asks, who listens, and who helps see the forest and the trees.

3. Tell them how they can improve. It takes bravery to give the gift of feedback, and it can take time to earn the right to. While it's important to build someone up, it's also important to (diplomatically) highlight what might be holding them back. Ask yourself how far you might have gotten in your own career had you not listened to constructive feedback. If you see something in their approach that might be getting in their way, begin a conversation about it. 

4. Make the right introductions. If your approach to mentorship is solely about making introductions, you're doing it wrong. But in time, think about connections you can make for the person that will be mutually beneficial. (Equally important: try not to reflexively say yes when asked to make introductions; weigh each request on its merits.)

5. Approach mentorship like a partnership - because it is. Like a good conversation, a strong mentor-mentee relationship should never be one-sided. Both parties should take time to plan (even if briefly) what they want from each interaction and what they might be able to contribute. This doesn't have to mean every informal coffee meeting is a quid pro quo, but that every interaction has been given a little thought by both people. 

 

Mentoring, done well, can and should lead to a long-lasting, mutually beneficial partnership. Take time to get to know your mentee and coach them to use your time well - just be sure to return the favor, too.