8 essential roles for the successful mentor

Do you have what it takes to help a junior employee navigate the corporate world? Find out which hats you must don as you take up this deeply rewarding challenge.

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” —John C. Crosby

One of the most important roles of a leader is to provide workplace supervision. It is our duty to manage others in their work (particularly those who are new or less experienced) and ensure they perform their duties correctly and on schedule. Without such supervision, it’s generally assumed workers will slack off and underperform.

If we want people to grow in their positions, stay with the organization and achieve optimal job satisfaction, we also must provide mentorship. (A 2013 Vestrics study found that employee retention rates climbed 69 percent for mentors and 72 percent for mentees over a seven-year period.)

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Mentorship is a relationship between an experienced professional and a less-experienced mentee or protégé. Its purpose is to build a support system that allows for the natural exchange of ideas and a forum for constructive advice.

Superior mentors are most, if not all, of the following personae:

1. Conveyor of skills and knowledge: Good mentors possess current and relevant knowledge, expertise and/or skills.

2. Trust builder: The mentor establishes a high level of trust. She indicates the relationship is about building capacity and offering support-not “zapping” the mentee for poor decisions or performances.

3. Active listener: A strong mentor knows how to listen. This includes using body language to convey interest and attention. Read more about strong listening skills here.

4. Strong analyst: Mentors must be able to analyze what has to get done and help the mentee create a plan for success. They also must be able to see how the worker’s abilities align with the task and must help him optimize his strengths.

5. Honest, clear communicator: It’s important for mentors to be clear about what the job entails, as well as what they observe. Be honest and specific about what is or isn’t working, and use measurable criteria to assess performance.

6. Committed and reliable advisor: Mentees should be able to trust their mentors to help and be there for them. On a related note, good mentors are sincerely interested in helping someone without any official reward. They do it because they want to see someone else succeed.

7. Role model: Ideally, the mentor should represent everything the mentee needs to become as an employee and a person. Realize the mentee will be studying you closely and will draw from your actions and values.

8. Cheerleader: This is perhaps a mentor’s most important quality. Mentors must be a source of inspiration for their mentees—especially when the pressure to perform mounts. Guidance coupled with a healthy dose of encouragement can be the magic formula to ensure a mentee’s success.

Naphtali Hoff became an executive coach and consultant following a 15-year career as an educator and school administrator. Read his blog at impactfulcoaching.com/blog. A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBlog on Leadership.

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