We often hear highly successful people give some credit to people that they describe as their mentors. A mentor is basically a person who shares their experience and knowledge in a particular area with another person who is just starting out in the same area. The relationship between the mentor and the mentee can be a formal one in that a mentor may be assigned by an employer to a new employee with the goal of helping the new person better understand their new job and role. It can also be rather informal, as when a person with more experience decides to take a new person “under their wing.” Mentoring can also be quite specific or entirely job related – for example John Bradberry Consulting mentors young photographers – or much more broadly defined – such as a mentor in the Big Brothers who gives guidance and advice in general to teens.
Regardless of the specific nature of the mentoring relationship, the basic roles of a mentor are as follows.
To offer guidance – because a mentor is someone who has experience that is relevant to the mentee’s current situation, one of the key roles of a mentor is to provide guidance and advice. In a job situation, a mentor may provide valuable advice to a mentee who is trying to navigate the complicated overlap of personal and professional relationships. Or, mentors can provide broad insights about the nature of the profession or industry to help the mentee better understand how to make a positive contribution.
To teach – in addition to offering guidance, mentors can also teach specific skills, processes or techniques to their mentees. For example, how to prepare a specific kind of report, or how to take a particular kind of picture, or how to prepare a resume.
To model – sometimes, the best lessons are learned by example, and a great mentor should model the kind of behavior that will help a mentee achieve success. Whether modelling particular practices or simply a general standard of professionalism or responsibility, a mentor sets the standard that the mentee can adapt and shape to suit their own personalities.
To support and motivate – because a mentor was once in the same place as the mentee, he or she can understand the challenges, insecurities and worries that may be facing the mentee; an important role of a mentor is to normalize these feelings, and to provide assurance that the mentee will feel more confident and will achieve success with hard work and motivation. A mentor can also help by providing some material support, perhaps by making an important introduction, helping with an invitation to a conference or in some other way. While there is a line that should not be crossed, there is no reason that the mentor cannot use his or her network to open a few doors. It will be up to the mentee to rise to the challenge.
While there are many other roles that a mentor can play, these are some of the most important features of the relationship between a mentor and a mentee.