Mentoring 101

Leah Flynn Gallant, Student Leadership and Engagement Programs

Seven tips for kickstarting a successful mentor-mentee relationship.

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The role of a mentor is to help others identify areas for development and growth and assist them in setting and reaching goals. A mentor is a friend, a resource, a coach or guide, a motivator and sometimes a confidante. 

1. Reflect

Use your past experience as a starting point. Who was a good mentor to you and why? What made that relationship work? Were you ever given a mentor you didn’t click with? What was different? Ask your friends, family members, or co-workers about the good mentors that they’ve had—you might gain useful information you wouldn’t have come up with on your own.

Think about your own academic, professional, or personal journey—how did you get to where you are now? What were the pivotal moments, key choices, and major challenges? What guidance was (or would have been) helpful to you along the way?

2. Learn

Learn about your mentee's goals and what they expect from you and your relationship. Why are they looking for a mentor in the first place? To what extent is their experience reminiscent of your own? This will help you define goals for the relationship going forward and determine how your skills/knowledge/experience can be best put to use.

3. Set expectations

Be clear about what you can and can’t offer from the beginning. You are human—don't make promises you can’t keep! Sometimes that means that, for a given problem or situation, you might not be the most effective, knowledgeable, or appropriate mentor. That’s ok! In those situations, guide them to a more suitable resource. (For situations that you are likely to encounter, study up on the other resources that are out there, so you can be ready on the spot.)

4. Set boundaries

Boundaries ensure that both mentor and mentee feel comfortable and respected in the relationship, which is essential to its success. Set boundaries regarding the nature of issues you will discuss. Depending on the context (e.g., in a professional setting, or in a peer-mentoring setting), different levels of formality will be appropriate. For example, in a professional setting, you want your mentee to feel comfortable approaching you with a work-related issue, but not necessarily about romantic issues.

Be sure to communicate how/when it is appropriate for your mentee can get in touch with you. If your mentee has your phone number, when and under what circumstances can they use it? If they email you at 1 a.m., when can they expect a reply? 

If your mentee says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, don’t keep it to yourself—say so directly or seek guidance from someone else.

5. Ask questions

Help your mentees work things out by asking them questions, instead of just giving them the answers. This will help to keep them engaged in their own learning process, and they might also be able to come up with solutions to their own problems that are more specifically tailored to their needs or circumstances.

6. Project positivity

Project yourself in a positive manner (i.e., as someone interested in supporting your mentee)! Staying positive will help to reinforce to your mentee that you care about and believe in their success.

7. Be a role model

Ultimately, you are a role model to your mentee—they are a reflection of your own leadership! Mentees learn a lot from what their mentors do, not just what they say. And after all, this gives you a good reason reinforce those good practices in your own life or work!


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