Managing Humans: Getting Started as a Mentor

Today’s guest blog post is the fourth in a six-part series by Rachel Hands, Senior Manager, Client Administration, Patron Technology. Click here to start at part one. 

In our last post in this series, I made the case for investing the time and energy in mentoring relationships, even if your team is small. If you’re new to mentoring, this post is designed to help you understand how to gauge whether that’s what’s needed, how to get started, and what to expect from each other as a mentor/mentee.

The main purpose of any mentoring relationship is to help the mentee set and reach career goals. If you’re approaching this as a mentor, you have a few jobs in this relationship:

  • Listen to the mentee, and ask questions about their interests and goals.
  • Help them clarify goals that might not be fully formed.
  • Help them identify and access the resources they need to meet those goals.
  • Help them identify and make plans to develop the skills they need.
  • Hold them accountable for acting on those plans.
  • Act as an advocate for them in areas where you have influence and they don’t.

Here are a few questions to consider as you approach a mentoring relationship from the mentee perspective, to help you decide if a mentorship is the right fit:

  • Do you know what you want to do in your career, or what opportunities exist in your field?
  • Do you know what resources or skills you need to succeed at what you want to do?
  • Does the prospective mentor have the means and expertise to help you develop and meet those goals?
  • Do you trust the prospective mentor to advocate for you?

Let’s focus for a moment on the question of what it means to be an advocate. In some cases, being a mentor/advocate might mean asking the board to budget for a promotion or salary raise for your mentee; maybe it means convincing your organization’s leadership to implement cloud-based systems that allow folks more flexibility to work remotely. Advocacy (sometimes also described as sponsorship) is especially important if the mentee is not at the beginning of their career and doesn’t need as much guidance around defining their goals and developing their skills.

While you don’t have to have a manager/reporting relationship for mentoring and advocacy to take place, if you are a manager, you can facilitate these relationships by creating a framework for your direct reports to get support from you. I recommend regular weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, even if you’re a team of two.

Setting aside dedicated time establishes the relationship as a priority and allows you time to talk about things that aren’t likely to come up organically in conversation, such as long-term or medium-term goal-setting. (Check out this post by tech manager Lara Hogan for some ideas for establishing trust and open communication in your first one-on-one with a new direct report.) The best one-on-ones are led by the direct report and usually involve the report doing most of the talking. These are opportunities for the manager to ask questions and listen first, then give advice, guidance, or advocacy as needed.

Continuing our focus on the role of the manager: once you’ve established a respectful, trusting relationship with each person on your team (whether or not those turn into formal mentorships), you can turn your attention to creating a broader team culture that reflects your organization’s mission and values. In our final two posts in this series, we’ll talk about ways to cultivate staff relationships across the entire team. Check out part five here and part six here

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