Becoming a Mentor

Engineering Education Now: Becoming a Mentor

Harvard Business Review recently observed the shortage of mentors, noting that while more than 75% of professionals would like to have a mentor, only 37% actually have one. We’ve previously touched on the importance of mentors from the mentees’ viewpoint. In this post, we’ll explore this relationship from the mentor’s point of view.

Becoming a Mentor: The Benefits

Some may wonder what the benefit is to them by becoming a mentor. Business coach Christine Agro says, “I firmly believe what goes around comes around and when you open up to support someone else’s growth, something open ups for you as well.” Mike Bergelson, founder of the mentor-matching site Everwise, notes that in mentoring, the maxim that the teacher learns more than the student is spot-on.

Terri A. Scandura, a management professor and dean of the graduate school at the University of Miami, says that mentors can build new skills when they foster a relationship with their mentees and adds: “Dealing with a person who is your junior improves your network.”

Becoming a Mentor: Getting Started

Brittany Herbert, the CEO and founder of Sky High for Kids, states that mentors should evaluate themselves and ask, How can my experiences and skills guide someone in a similar role and/or industry? By doing this, the mentor can identify teaching moments more easily, recognizing how to foster the mentee’s growth.

New mentors should also understand the difference between having valuable experience and articulating a clear explanation of why and how this experience is useful for the mentee. Clearly communicating lessons learned so that the mentee understands strategies they can use is crucial, notes Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom.

Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org and author of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, says that listening to the mentee is vital: “It’s more about the relationship than imparting sage advice. The key is not being interesting. The real key is being interested — being present and paying attention.”

In a recent New York Times article, Jenni Luke, chief executive of the national teen mentorship organization StepUp, adds: “The mentors that our girls love the most are the ones that are great listeners, that see their potential and are willing to support them, come hell or high water.”

Becoming a Mentor: Ask Questions

A key question to ask the mentee, suggests Rick Woolworth, co-founder and president of Telemachus, is, How do you personally define long-term success? Woolworth unpacks this question by asking the mentee to imagine him/herself at their 80th birthday party – what five things would they like to be said about them? He shares his own answer to this question with the mentee as well.

“If you don’t do this early on in your mentoring conversations, it is like sailing a ship without the ultimate destination in mind and you’ll find that it is possible to give a mentee good career advice that is poor life advice.”

Beyond this, Woolworth suggests other questions, including, What keeps you up at night? What do you do to “reboot” so that you don’t burn out? Who has been most influential in your life? What did you love doing in high school?

Nicholas C. Zakas, an independent software developer who writes the blog humanwhocodes.com, says that when it comes to technical questions from mentees, instead of simply giving them the answer, he recommends pointing them in the right direction by asking questions like,

  • Start from the top, what is the problem you are trying to solve?
  • What would make this problem easier to solve?
  • What alternatives have you looked at?
  • Have you considered ____ or ____? Try looking them up and let me know what you think.
  • Are there any easier ways to do the same thing?

Zakas states that these questions can then become a repeatable strategy that mentees can employ on their own.

Becoming a Mentor: Constant Reflection

Forbes notes the importance of reflecting on and evaluating the value of the meetings between mentor and mentee periodically, ensuring that both stay on track to create a rewarding relationship. Dawn Wells Nadeau, an entrepreneur, adds, “When you know that someone is going to check in with you, the goals, commitments, or tasks you set for yourself feel more real…. These exchanges solidify your commitment to your goals and lay the framework for a continuous dialogue.”

Mentors undoubtedly can be great positive influencers on their mentees, shaping the next generation of leaders by teaching from their own experience.

Next time, we’ll examine how fostering a mentor relationship can be hugely beneficial for women engineers.

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