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The Key to Becoming a Successful Mentor

The Key to Becoming a Successful Mentor

By definition, a mentor is a catalyst for growth. Some of the most successful mentors of all time possess these characteristics: perspective, clarity, supportiveness, confidence-building, patience, involvement, respect, openness.

Let's take Yoda, for example. Sometimes known to lose his patience, Yoda is able to drive young Luke to the edge and infuse him with confidence to make the final leap - masterfully transferring ownership of the newly-acquired skills to his disciple. A good mentor is not someone who's perfect, but someone who knows the perfect tool for the task at hand.

Often times the answer is in the question, grasshopper. Let's take a look at the types of questions that elicit growth:

High gain questions encourage elaboration, demonstrate that you're focused on the mentee's needs, and involve the mentee in the development of the solutions. Examples: "Tell me more about this.." "What led you to that conclusion?" "How do you feel about that?"

Investigative questions check for more information. "How long have you worked on this?" "Who else is involved?" "Where do you think the project went off track?"

Discovery questions dig deeper and identify existing needs, problems, pain points, goals, etc. "What have you learned from this experience?" "How will you be measuring success?" "What are your alternatives?"

Empowering questions is where the magic of transferring ownership of the new skills to the mentee happens. "What is your first step?" "What resources do you have, what do you need?" "What do you have to do to make this happen?"

A successful mentoring program has two crucial elements:

  1. Clearly outlined goals or outcomes.
  2. Methodology (theory of change) of planning, participation, and evaluation.

The first is self-explanatory, but the key is to get in agreement with the mentee ahead of time, which will allow for accountability to take place. The methodology simply refers to the process via which the results will be obtained and how the outcome will be measured. This is all about having a system - how you will get from A to Z.

One of the biggest things I stress at the beginning of every mentoring relationship is the importance of complete confidentiality. I want to establish from the get-go that this is a place where the mentee's feelings, thoughts, and doubts are all welcome and to assure them that it will not get back to their boss. The assurance of confidentiality goes a long way in creating not only trust but also the fertile ground for breaking through barriers.

[Read more: 5 Ways Women Can Maximize Their Leadership Skills]

Mentoring can be very rewarding and some of the benefits include increasing your credibility and improving your positioning in your industry; enhancing your communication, leadership, and coaching skills, widening and improving the quality of your network, developing and retaining talent within your organization, and, not in the last place: building your legacy.

Fortune 500 CEO of Ingredion Ilene Gordon sums up her ideal candidate in these words: “I look for young people who have a lot of energy and drive to get things done, who don’t give up, and keep an eye on where they’re going, who are very focused and organized but are also able to collaborate with other people (team).”

And then, Ilene Gordon adds: “The key question I always ask is: Who mentored you? … I don’t think there’s anybody who’s successful in their role today who hasn’t been mentored by somebody.”

Want to learn more about being the best mentor you can be? Lina Taylor hosted an awesome Jam Session on the topic - listen to it here.

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A former Olympian, Lina Taylor is the Executive Director of the Joe Moore Foundation for Teamwork, where she is dedicated to furthering their mission: to foster the essential aspect of all great societal endeavors – teamwork – and to bring that spirit of collective achievement not only to sports, but also to schools, organizations, businesses and communities.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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