How to Be a Mentor When You’ve Never Been One Before

Imagine someone you know fairly well approaches you. Maybe they confide how much they admire where your entrepreneurial career has taken you and expresses a desire to be like you someday. Perhaps they are pursuing a venture of their own and see you, an experienced professional, as someone to come to for thoughtful advice. Eventually, they pop the big question: “Will you be my mentor?”

As a small business owner, I’ve been both a mentee and a mentor. I find that having a mentor is critical to one’s success, as it helps mentees understand what to expect throughout their careers. However, if you have never done this before, it’s important to fully understand what you’re getting into. Grab a pen and start taking notes — here’s what you need to do before agreeing to act as anyone’s mentor.

Find out what type of mentor you want to be

Mentors don’t come in a one size fits all box! There are three specific types of mentors and it’s important that you understand which one you would be classified as.

  • Peer mentors: For mentees, these individuals may be their internship co-workers or fellow peers at an extracurricular activity like the school newspaper. They can be mentors, but generally are there to show you the ropes and help you learn a few new skills.
  • Career mentors: This is how many mentees tend to see mentors — as individuals in their field that they admire the careers of and want to emulate for their own. As a career mentor, you can advise mentees and provide feedback about their entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses and shadow them as their instructor.
  • Life mentors: Maybe you’re considering leaving your desk job to become an entrepreneur. You would consult a life mentor (generally somebody you don’t work with but who still has experience) for advice. They can give you the scoop about what pivoting like this is really like and whether it’s in your best interest.

Establish parameters in your relationship

You want to help your mentee out, but there’s a limit to how much you can assist them. Acting as a mentor to someone does not give anyone free reign to text, call and email you all day long with a nonstop parade of questions, ideas and stories. Figure out what the best days and times to contact one another are and stick to a set schedule to meet up and chat.

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Figure out how you can give and take

Mentors are often perceived as a pitcher of water. You can always keep coming back to that pitcher to pour yourself a drink. But, what happens when the pitcher starts to empty? Either you walk away from in the hopes that someone else will refill it, or you fill it with water yourself.

The best mentorships never let this proverbial pitcher of water run dry. As a mentor, your relationship with your mentee should be reciprocal. Determine how the two of you can give and take together. Mentors and mentees should both be able to support one another and support doesn’t always translate to giving advice. Listening, asking questions to learn more about the other’s interests and personalities, and providing constructive feedback are all great support methods.

Get excited

The journey ahead for both mentors and mentees is bound to be full of its share of hurdles and difficulties. There will also be a lot of surprises and achievements to celebrate on the horizon. Get excited about this opportunity! It’s rewarding to pay it forward and to learn and grow together as a team.

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