Why become a mentor?
“Mentors are fortune. They enjoy the privilege of learning while helping others to solve challenges”
There are many reasons why people become mentors. Some of the benefits are:
- Satisfaction from helping others to learn and grow.
- The opportunity to develop new skills, such as listening and giving feedback.
- The gratification of being able to give something back to the community.
- Satisfaction of being part of a team that is committed to make a better future.
What you do as a mentor
Communication skills are key competencies because mentors need to be able to build rapport, listen actively, and ask relevant and challenging questions. They also need to show empathy and encourage the mentee to be accountable for their development. These skills are also used in coaching, counseling and consulting.
There is clear distinction between consulting and mentoring: as a mentor, your role is to ask the right questions, but the role of consultant is to provide the right answers. Giving advice and making suggestions is part of mentoring, but it is a matter of balance. You need to be aware that a mentee can fall into trap of regarding their mentor as a consultant, offering solutions on a plate.
A.T.Award Mentors have slightly more challenging tasks ahead of them, as they are required to mentor high performing students who have managed to win the A.T.Award.
What you learn as a mentor
Mentoring provides an opportunity to develop and refine a wide set of skills that are essential in today’s world of work. Due to the nature of mentoring, these attributes are predominantly in the area of interpersonal skills and communication, but ability in, planning, goal setting, project management and time management also plays a key role.
Skills development for mentor
- Being empathetic.
- Showing encouragement.
- Being challenging.
- Learning to deal with setbacks.
- Celebrating success.
- Committing to action/creating accountability within the mentee.
- Managing your mentoring commitments, even if you have a heavy workload.
- Listening skills, such as active listening, maintaining a balance of listening and speaking, and remaining non-judgmental
- Questioning skills, such as asking suitable questions to challenge and support mentee.
- Checking for understanding; reflecting and summarizing.
- Being aware of what is and isn’t being said, such as by reading non-verbal clues (body language).
- Finding the right level of challenge and support for each individual.
- Dealing with the mentee’s internal and/or external barriers.
- Developing self-awareness – of your and of the mentee.
- Being able to deviate form the agenda to respond to the mentee’s need.
- Supporting mentees to build relationships outside their existing network.
- Engaging the mentee in solving a problem.
- Enabling the mentee to think creatively.
- Being flexible and thinking on your feet.
Giving and receiving feedback
- Suspending judgment.
- Providing regular and constructive feedback.
- Asking for regular feedback from your mentee.
Goal setting and action Planning
- Understating the mentee’s agenda.
- Enabling the mentee to identify, clarify and set realistic goals.
- Creating a sense of accountability and the commitment of the mentee to achieve goals set.
Boundaries and responsibilities in a mentoring relationship
Specific mentor responsibilities:
- At least 4 meetings (face to face/Skype/phone/email) with the mentee during the 2 years period
- Creating physical and emotion space for the mentoring relationship despite your busy schedule.
- Clear contracting at the beginning, helping the mentee set smart objectives.
- Setting boundaries and ground rules jointly with your mentee.
- Creating a safe, open and honest learning environment.
- Being approachable and accessible.
- Assisting your mentee but not doing the work for them.
- Regularly reviewing the mentoring partnership and taking action to address issues if the mentoring process is not beneficial to both mentor and mentee.
- Regularly giving feedback to Head of Mentoring team.
- Ending the mentoring relationship once objectives have been met.
What makes a successful mentor?
Effective mentors are diverse in skills and attributes. They all engage in the same professional development activity, yet they do it in their own authentic way and in their own style. However, they all follow some basic mentoring principles.
Putting your mentee centre stage
Successful mentors strike a fine balance between the mentee’s agenda and development objectives and organisational expectations. Mentors open new horizons for mentees without imposing their own agendas.
Responding to your mentee’s need
Mentees present challenges that are unique to them. Their attitudes and learning styles will also be different. Effective mentors are able to adapt their mentoring style to individuals so as to provide the best development opportunities for them. This involves being able to shift between different mentoring styles, and adapting the level of support and challenge to the needs of the mentee.
Helping mentees to help themselves
The aim of mentoring is for the mentee to grow and learn, and to achieve a higher level of independence and self-reliance. This means the mentor must give the mentee space to develop ownership of their own development, help them find their own solutions, and guide only when appropriate and beneficial to the mentee.
Asking for feedback
The person best equipped to give you feedback on your performance as a mentor is your mentee. Giving and receiving feedback should be a regular feature of the mentoring process because it helps to establish the good practice of providing feedback, which can be transferred into the working environment. It also helps the professional development of both mentor and mentee. Asking for mentoring supervision from Head of Mentoring team is another way to ensure continuous learning.
Tip for mentors
At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, take time to build rapport, understand the mentee’s agenda and agree on objectives and boundaries, regardless of how keen your mentee is to begin. This will ensure that you are working towards the same goals.
Questions frequently asked by mentors
Q1) I have no previous mentoring experience but would like to become a mentor. How can I go about this?
Head of Mentoring team is responsible in recruiting mentors for the A.T.Award mentoring scheme. The selection process includes submitting a CV, an interview and a clear DBS check.
Q2) Will I get an introduction prior to the first mentoring session?
Mentors will be selected through interview process. Successful mentors will be given introduction to the mentoring process.
Q3) What is the time commitment?
Apart from the first group meeting, mentoring sessions can range from 30 minutes to 1 hour. It is required to have at least 1 face-to-face session during the 2 years period. As a mentor, you are a role model. If you find yourself postponing meetings often and not honoring previous agreements, you send the wrong signal to your mentee, and their commitment will suffer as a consequence.
Q3) Is it important to have review meetings?
Yes – regular learning reviews are an important part of any professional development activity, and mentoring is no exception.
Q4) What do I do if I can’t provide the right guidance to the mentee?
If you realize that you simply can’t help the mentee you are required to communicate to the Head of Mentoring team.
Q5) How many mentees can I take on at the same time?
Mentors can take up to 3 mentees at a time however, there are a few factors to consider:
- How much time you can spend on mentoring as part of your own professional development, in consultation with your line manager.
- How much time you can set aside for taking on additional mentoring responsibilities.
Q6) What can I do if I struggle with my mentoring sessions?
First, keep a learning log to help you to reflect on your experience and gain a deeper understanding of what is working well and what isn’t. Second, recognize that as a mentor you are not there on your own. Help and support are available through A.T.Award Mentoring service. Any issue should be discussed in review meetings with the Head of Mentoring team.
This document was prepared with a help of Institute of Physics (IOP) and University of Surrey PGR Mentoring scheme.
 Mike Pegg 2006 The Art of Mentoring: How You Can Be a Superb Mentor (Cirencester: Management Books 2000 Ltd), ISBN 1-85252-272-0, p165.