Whether intentional or not, many of us will find ourselves in the role of a mentor during some point in our lives. Whether these relationships are more formal (part of a program or from an explicit request for mentoring) or less formal (a relationship that forms slowly over time), we should take a moment to make sure we are ready for the responsibility of helping to guide another’s development. Below are some questions you should ask yourself whenever you find yourself in the mentor’s role.
1. Do you have the time to be a mentor?
In order for any relationship to gain traction, both parties must be willing to devote a fair amount of time to its development and maintenance. For formal relationships, a mentor who has no time can lead to the protégé feeling discouragement, resentment, or rejection. For informal relationships, the lack of time does not allow for a strong bond to form or create space for those “critical incidents” that move a mentoring relationship to the next level. While there is no magical amount of time to create a strong partnership, a good rule of thumb is to try to spend at least two hours a month in mentoring discussions.
2. How easily can you establish rapport with people?
One of the key roles a mentor plays is creating a space where the protégé can examine issues and difficulties in a safe environment. This space is built on trust, which starts with good rapport. If building a rapport with a protégé is difficult, it will be harder for a mentoring relationship to grow.
3. Do you know how to translate abstract ambitions or desires into tangible goals?
While a lot of mentoring is spent coaching a protégé through current issues, many relationships will venture into the area of life/career ambitions. You can have tremendous impact as a mentor if you are able to help a protégé build long-term goals out of vague notions and strivings.
4. Can you help others to step back and see the bigger picture?
Related to the ability to help form goals is the ability to think and act strategically. Protégés often use their mentors as sounding boards for their more important ideas. If you can help a protégé see the bigger picture, you can help build the capacity for more strategic thinking.
5. Are you able to teach through questioning?
The Socratic Method is named for the process that Socrates used to teach Plato. It is a powerful tool where the teacher guides the learner through a series of questions instead of providing answers. Not only does it build the capacity of the protégé to think things through on his own, but it also does not assume that the mentor has all the right answers. While a Socratic questioning session always takes longer than just telling the protégé the answers, it will deliver a more sustainable benefit.
6. Can you recognize when it is time for someone to move on?
Birds seem to have an innate sense of when it is time for the younglings to leave the nest. A strong mentoring partnership can disintegrate when the relationship needs to move to a different level but one or both parties are not willing to let it. What happens in the end can be frustration and resentment as the relationship continues to be defined by roles that do not seem to fit. While some partnerships grow into peer relationships, others dissolve as one or both parties break away.