Training your mentors: What constitutes effective mentor training?

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The value of mentoring is not unknown to many. In history, Robespierre mentored Napoleon and Socrates mentored Plato. In fiction, Dumbledore mentored Harry Potter and Yoda mentored Luke Skywalker. Fast forward to modern day, Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerburg and Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey. Many successful individuals attribute their success to having a good mentor in their corner. But sometimes, finding an effective mentoring relationship, particularly for leadership and entrepreneurial mentoring programmes, isn’t so easy. You see, not every successful person makes a good and effective mentor. But before we proceed with what it takes to be an effective mentor, it is important to be aligned on the definition of mentoring.

What is mentoring?

We frequently find, in many entrepreneurial or leadership mentoring programmes, mentoring being misrepresented as or used interchangeably with coaching; business advise or other support interventions.

To be an effective mentor, you must also understand what mentoring is in order to effectively perform your role as a mentor.

Who is an effective mentor?

An effective mentor helps mentees overcome challenges and achieve their goals. These challenges can be either/both personal or professional. Mentors support their mentees by acting as sounding boards, friends, and cheerleaders, listening, asking powerful questions, and giving feedback, among several other mentoring skills.

What a mentor brings.

To be an effective mentor, you don’t need to be older than your mentee, work in the same industry or field as them, or be famous or successful. In fact, in some situations, we’ve found that individuals who are very renowned and successful may not always be the best mentors because rather than listening to their mentees and asking questions, they focus more on speaking and giving advice or direction. We’ve also found that individuals who are far up in ranks compared to their mentees, or much older than their mentees, can be far removed from their mentee’s situations. Additionally, having mentor and mentee pairs from the same field or industry can, in some cases, stifle creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. One of the keys to mitigating and overcoming these and other potential challenges in building an effective mentoring relationship is to have proper training and preparation that puts potential mentors on the right path to successful mentoring.

What should mentors be trained on?

Having ill-prepared mentors is a sure way to let your mentoring programme enthusiasm fizzle out. Through mentor training, mentors are clearer on what to expect and how to handle challenges that arise. When they go in without confusion about what their expectations as a mentor are, they are more equipped and motivated to carry out that role effectively. As such mentor training and preparation should constitute clarity on:

1. The mentoring programme’s objective

When the mentor knows what the mentoring programme has been designed to achieve, they are better positioned to help mentees achieve their goals which support the larger objective. This is especially the case for more formal or corporate mentoring programmes.

2. The mentee’s mentoring objectives

Mentors should go into their mentoring relationships having a clear understanding of what the mentee wants to achieve from the mentoring and/or their mentoring sessions. With this goal in mind during mentoring sessions, the mentors and mentees will be in a better position to assess whether the mentoring is in fact doing what it should.

3. Their role in the mentoring relationship

While this may seem pretty straightforward, it is important to reiterate what a mentor should and shouldn’t do in their mentoring relationships to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. For example, mentors should not give advice. Giving advice may lead to co-dependency by their mentee. Instead, a mentor should use powerful questioning to help their mentee come to their own solutions. When mentors know what their role is, they can co-define boundaries with their mentees making both parties comfortable in the mentoring relationship.

4. Issue handling within the mentoring programme

Conflicts or challenges arise, as would be the case in any relationship. Mentors (and mentees) should be made aware of some of the situations that could arise and the escalation protocols to address them. The mentoring programme manager should be in a position to guide them on how to go about mitigating these as well as possible solutions.

5. The mentoring relationship phases

By providing the mentors with the different milestones or checkpoints within the mentoring programme, they can be able to set the pace for the mentoring relationships in a bid to meet the defined programme timelines, if any.

6. Tools on how to strengthen the mentoring relationship with their mentees

Mentoring skills like powerful questioning, giving feedback, listening etc, can come easier for some and not others. It can however be developed and strengthened in a facilitated setting. Since a mentor’s role is to help their mentee get further faster, providing your mentors with tools and ideas to give them direction and hone their mentoring skills, the mentors will be more motivated to keep the mentoring relationship going and the mentees will experience the value of having a mentor.

7. How to wind down and transition the mentoring relationship

Once the mentoring programme comes to its end, mentors will need to close out their mentoring relationships in an organic way. With the right mentor training, they can be equipped with the tools they need to help them transition their relationship with their mentee from a mentoring relationship to whatever is to come. That could be unofficial mentoring, friendship, or even moving to their next mentee.

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