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What it takes to be a mentor (it might be different than you think)

When you picture a mentor, what do you see? A silver-haired executive with more than his or her fair share of “war stories”? The successful, fast talking company star?

In my volunteer experiences with organizations like TeamWomenMNMentoring Monday and Baker Tilly’s GROW (Growth and Retention of Women) initiative, I’ve often seen people not pursue mentoring because they don’t believe they have the right amount of experience, time or skills to effectively guide someone in their career. The truth is, mentoring isn’t dependent upon those things.

What mentoring is (and what it isn’t)

  • Mentoring is about listening. As a mentor, it’s not your job to solve your mentee’s problems. Your role is to actively listen and help her uncover possible solutions. Brainstorm, listen, talk through different outcomes, ask questions and provide advice sparingly.
  • Being a mentor is not a full-time (or even part-time) gig. While consistent check-ins with your mentee are advisable, constant communication is not necessary – nor is it healthy! It is okay to set boundaries and not be perpetually accessible. If she wants more time or involvement than you can provide, communicate that. Have a conversation about expectations right away so you both know what to expect and neither feel overwhelmed or ignored.
  • Mentoring is not forever. Agreeing to be a mentor is not a life-long commitment. At the beginning of the relationship, it’s a good idea to discuss the length of time your mentee would like to be mentored. Twelve months is a good timeframe to start with. After a year, evaluate together if continuing the relationship for another six or twelve months would be beneficial.
  • Being a mentor doesn’t have to wait until you’re in the c-suite. Don’t have your own career completely figured out? Still climbing the corporate ladder? Made more than your share of career missteps? You might just have what it takes to be a mentor. To be an effective mentor, you don’t have to be (or act) perfect or have achieved all of your career goals. The more genuine and real you can be with your mentee by sharing the lessons you’ve learned throughout your career – both successes and failures – the deeper the connection and benefit for both of you.

Mentors play an important role in the professional lives and development of young women and, as a mentor, it can be incredibly rewarding to observe the impact you’ve had on your mentee’s career goals and aspirations.

Are you up for the challenge? I think you are.