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YALI Voices: Becoming a Mentor
October 30, 2017

Many people go through life on autopilot. In most cases their life, be it personal, academic or professional, suffers stunted growth due to a deficiency in knowledge, experiences, opinions and ideas from a more experienced person, a mentor. This makes being a mentor one of the most fulfilling and priceless experiences one may ever get to have.

The first step toward being a mentor is knowing why you want to be one. For example, you might just want to pass on your skills and experience to a junior individual in your field, or you may just want to positively affect your community. As you do this, be aware of the strenuous nature of mentoring. Serving as a mentor requires time and dedication.

Mentoring is about helping mentees advance their professional life. Thus you should also be stable professionally, otherwise you may even end up feeling threatened by your mentee’s success, or you may simply lack authenticity. Nevertheless, you should not try to hide your own ignorance or true self.

The next step is identifying a mentee. There are so many ways or means through which one can find mentees. Sometimes it happens somewhat naturally where you find yourself with someone always coming to you for guidance and you sort of unconsciously adopt the person as a mentee. However, there exist many well-established schemes through which mentors and mentees can be matched. Some companies even consider mentoring programs as a great way for them to retain and engage staff, as well as pass on their expertise.

Once you have a mentee, the next step is creating a successful relationship. This is the make-or-break stage. Mentoring either fails or excels here.

Despite the differences in the nature of mentoring relationships, the art of creating a successful relationship with a mentee largely remains the same.

Here are some tips for creating a successful relationship:

  • Actively listen: Always give the mentee enough time and space to explain himself or herself. Pay attention to what is said, be it verbal or nonverbal, and be able to summarize it. This will assist you in understanding your mentee’s present position so that you offer appropriate advice.
  • Provide constructive feedback: Avoid criticism or condemning mistakes, but offer nonjudgmental developmental feedback. This shows that you are concerned with your mentee’s growth. But make a deliberate attempt to avoid ownership of your mentee’s problems.
  • Align motivations and goals: Identify your goals and compare them with your mentee’s, modify unrealistic expectations and address discrepancies. You may experience difficulties when your motivations and goals for the mentoring relationship do not match those of your mentee. Clarity of motivations sustains your commitment to and satisfaction with your mentoring relationship. Also avoid using your mentee to further your own selfish goals.
  • Avoid over-involvement with mentees: Set limits or boundaries with mentees. Recognize your mentee as an individual with a private life, but establish an environment for open interaction and reflection. Be sensitive to issues of sexual harassment or discrimination of any type. Mentoring is more about the mentee than the mentor, so the mentee sets the pace of the relationship.
  • Use emotional intelligence: Know yourself, know your mentee and be able to manage both.
  • Be a valuable resource: A mentor is a resource for your mentees. Also act as a networking agent and expand your mentee’s developmental network. Suggest skills training and even other mentors for certain needs.

The powerful positive effects of mentoring on mentees, or rather the importance of mentoring, can never be over-emphasized. Although mentoring relationships can be approached from a range of different perspectives, some of which are associated with better outcomes than others, relationship building is key to the success of mentoring.

Stuart Zenzele Mwale is a training and development specialist. He provides training and consultancy at Thuli Institute in Zimbabwe in a variety of areas, including entrepreneurship and management. A 2017 YALI RLC SA Business and Entrepreneurship participant, Mwale has a special interest in mentoring. To learn more, contact Stuart on LinkedIn or via email.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.

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Headshot of man wearing suit and tie