Monday, December 17, 2012

Are you an effective mentor?

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How does one know that he/she is being an effective mentor? 

I've been asked this question in several different forms. Mentoring is a significant time commitment and so one wants to be reassured that the time spent is not being "wasted". It's not like there's a checklist or report card out there to measure oneself by.

If our mentee/protégé is heeding our words or making significant changes based on our mentoring conversations we can tell there is an effect. But it's not always so clear. There are a few common frustrations mentors experience out there and some questions mentors ask themselves from time to time such as:

  1. Is my mentee listening to me?
  2. Is my mentee ever taking any of my advice?
  3. My mentee is about to make a big mistake - should I intervene?
  4. My mentee brings up the same subject over and over and over again. We've covered this. Why can't we move on?
These questions lead oneself to wonder how effective their mentoring might be.

I have a simple, straightforward way to figure it out: just ask the mentee!

The tough thing about mentoring is that the stories we share and the advice we give may take years to get fully digested and acted upon by the mentee. In fact we may never see the full measure of our positive influence on their lives. I know that when I've gone back to my own mentors to thank them for a conversation we had years earlier that led me to make a great decision often they don't recall even giving me that advice! We as mentors just have to know that being there for the mentee and actively listening could be the most powerful act we could do to help. And that help may never manifest itself into anything visible other than gratitude.

When those times of doubt about our usefulness cross our minds we can simply ask them "Are these conversations helping?"

I almost always end all of my mentoring conversations with that very question: "Was this talk today useful to you?". Happily the answer is usually "yes" but sometimes the answer is "somewhat" or "no" and that's completely fine. In some ways that's a better answer because it gives me an opportunity to delve into why. I learn a lot more about the mentee and sometimes I learn more about myself. I love figuring out how our conversations could be more helpful in the future.

No matter what if at the end of the day the mentee says a heartfelt "Thank you" then that's really the most important measure of effectiveness for me.

Progress doesn't always happen by leaps and bounds but usually by small, almost imperceptible micro-steps. That's still progress!

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