A mentor is someone who supports a peer or employee on their workplace journey. They are a trusted individual who openly shares their experiences and wisdom to help the person they are working with (the mentee) reach their goals. Learn what skills and strategies you need to consider when you are mentoring someone. 

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The following is adapted from the Rise mentorship toolkit: Protecting & Promoting Mental Health: A Toolkit for Mentors in Entrepreneurship | PDF. Rise is a national organization dedicated to empowering people with mental health and addiction challenges to achieve greater social and economic inclusion through entrepreneurship.

Mentorship can be especially helpful for those in equity-deserving groups, those who are new to a job role and those who may be struggling for any reason. 

Who can mentor?

Everyone can mentor as everyone has life experiences and skills they can share. The key is that a mentor be committed to regularly collaborating with and supporting the mentee. 

The mentor is often, but not always, more senior and experienced. 

Formal or informal mentorship opportunities can include pairing remote employees with a willing on-site employee to build camaraderie and keep up to date on what’s happening. It could include setting monthly challenges to encourage mentor/mentee interaction such as partnering on a trivia contest, taking a steps challenge, solving a problem or puzzle together or brainstorming solutions or innovations. 

What makes a good mentor? 

There generally isn’t any formal training to be a mentor. Your life experiences and skills are what your mentee will benefit from. It is important to remember, though, that the goal of mentoring isn’t to have an exact duplication of your own path, but rather use and share what you have learned to help your mentee to reach their own goals on their own path. 

Mentoring is a collaborative partnership where it is helpful to be able to:

  • Listen actively, patiently, and with empathy to form a clear understanding of the mentee’s needs, and to create a safe and confidential space for learning and sharing. 
  • Communicate openly, with respect and vulnerability, to build trust and help the mentee navigate challenges and achieve their goals. 
  • Empower the mentee as the decision-maker, responsible for driving both the business and the mentoring partnership. 
  • Share your knowledge and experiences, providing the mentee with insight and suggestions from another’s perspective. 
  • Ask questions to help your mentee apply answers they already know, and/or to guide them to discover new information for themselves. 
  • Support success through coaching and leadership, helping mentees refine their vision, while enabling them to define their own goals and draw their own conclusions. The Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment can be used to help you identify and strengthen your competence in fostering psychologically safe professional environments.
  • Learn from the mentee’s experiences and be a champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Understand your emotional intelligence strengths and areas for improvement by completing Workplace Strategies’ Emotional Intelligence Self Assessment.
  • Respect personal and business boundaries established at the start of the relationship.

The mentorship process 

There is no set process that works for mentoring, however there are factors that need to be considered to be successful:

  • Build the foundation. Trust is a vital part of a successful mentorship. Use your first meeting with your mentee to get to know them and to understand their needs. This will help you understand how you can support them in attaining their goals. Use the following as a guide for your conversation:
    • Introductions – Come from a place of curiosity and finding common interests while being cautious of unintended bias or microagressions. You can ask questions like “Tell me about yourself.” “What are some of your interests?” Share information about yourself to build trust.
    • Understand your mentee’s reasons for pursuing a mentor, and their intentions for the relationship. You can ask questions like: “What do you hope to get out of this relationship?”, “What types of support can I provide that will be most valuable to you?” or “How would you measure success of this relationship?”
  • Set expectations and define boundaries. Establish a shared understanding of how your partnership will operate by clarifying expectations and defining boundaries at the beginning of the relationship. Consider the following:
    • Define success: This is a key to a successful mentorship experience. Take time to really understand what this looks like for the mentee. This is their vision for success and will guide how you move forward together.
    • Understand needs: Consider your mentee’s learning, working, and communication style. Ask questions that help your mentee identify their needs and how you can support them in the most effective way. Consider asking questions like:
      • What communication style do you prefer (e.g. email, face-to-face meetings, etc.)?
      • What is your preferred feedback style (e.g. verbal, written, etc.)?
    • Establish expectations: It’s important to understand that there could be varying thoughts throughout the process. In order to maintain a positive working relationship, both you and the mentee need to:
      • Be kind and listen to each other’s opinions and perspectives without judgement.
      • Be curious and open to trying new ideas and approaches together, without taking credit or laying blame.
      • Be professional and courteous – Communicate if there is a conflict in a kind and professional manner. Inform each other if you need to miss a meeting or need to step away from or end the relationship at any point.
      • Establish roles and responsibilities – the most effective mentoring partnerships happen when the mentee is in the driver’s seat.
    • Set boundaries: This is a key part of any successful mentorship. Think about:
      • Time commitment: How much time are you both comfortable with for meetings and non-meeting communications? Note: A meeting once a month is suggested as a minimum. 
      • Cancellations: Life happens and unexpected events may impact your ability to meet. Establish what is appropriate notification, within reason.
      • Professional boundaries: What activities are you comfortable supporting (e.g. introductions to your network) and what should be avoided (e.g. sales pitches to network introductions)?
      • Privacy and confidentiality: All items discussed between a mentor and mentee should remain private and confidential unless explicit consent is given.

You can use the mentorship agreement template | PDF to document the shared expectations and boundaries discussed.

  • Define success. Supporting your mentee to feel empowered to set goals and track against them based on their own needs and definition of success is one of your most important roles as a mentor. Consider the following when working with your mentee:
    • Set small goals and be specific: You can have smaller goals connect to a larger goal, however setting small, achievable goals can help build confidence and foster a sense of progress and accomplishment. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based (S.M.A.R.T.).
    • Review goals and adjust if needed: Create a positive and supportive space where mentees feel safe to share their ideas and to reflect on and learn from their progress.
    • Share your experiences: Share the successes and, more importantly, your challenges. Mentees will appreciate the honesty and vulnerability as they learn from the obstacles you have overcome.

You can use the Goal planning and tracking worksheet | PDF to summarize your mentee’s goals and measure progress.

What if communication breaks down?

There could be instances where communication breaks down for a variety of reasons. Take a constructive and understanding approach when approaching the issue. Be aware of the challenges or obstacles your mentee might face as a result of a lack of support, training, privilege, ethnicity, language, or history. Consider that they may have faced discrimination, bullying or trauma. They may have physical or mental health issues. When you consider these potential challenges, you can base your support and advice on helping to address or eliminate them in a way that is psychologically safe for your mentee. You can use the following resources to understand the situation better and ensure both you and mentee feel heard:

  • Listening to understand for leaders This approach can help you understand the perspective of someone who is upset.
  • Supportive conversation library Questions and strategies to help you have a supportive conversation with someone on difficult topics like mental health, stress, addiction, anger, abuse or lying.
  • In the event of a crisis situation. Encourage your mentee to reach out to their network and seek qualified mental health support or visit Talk Suicide Canada for a list of local resources and support

Additional resources

Rise mentorship toolkit: Protecting & Promoting Mental Health: A Toolkit for Mentors in Entrepreneurship | PDF. A guide full of questions and exercises to help you navigate and contribute to a successful mentorship.

Contributors include.articlesJill MagisMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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