I’ve worked with many mentors in my career. I’ve also chatted with a few who have mentored others. I’ve come to the realization that every mentor has his or her own approach to mentoring.
There is the heavy handed mentor. This is the type of mentor that tells the mentee what to do. “This worked for me and it will certainly work for you. So do it my way” They either say or imply to the mentee.
They don’t take into account many other variables. There is the chance that the situation might be different. The approach might not work for the mentee’s personality. Also, what worked twenty or more years ago may not work in today’s world. (Really? You want me to write a letter?)
There is also the active listener. The active listener will hear a mentee’s problem. She will repeat what the mentee says at critical points to let the mentee know he’s being listened to. But little advice is given. The active listener is little more than a sounding board. She might say something like, “Well you certainly do have a decision to make, don’t you now.”
Somewhere in between them is the suggester. I know, it’s not a word, but bear with me. The suggester may listen to the mentee’s issues. But his main objective is to make suggestions. He’s not so heavy handed to tell the mentee what to do. But he isn’t afraid to give advice. “You might want to do this. You might want to do that.”
But whether you give advice to your mentee or quietly listen, smile and nod, are you really helping him? You may help your mentee solve a problem, but are you teaching him to solve problems. Like the old saying goes:
Catch a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he eats for the rest of his life.
The Options Approach to Mentoring
The mentor should engage in conversation with the mentee. She should listen closely to his issues and questions. Then, when she is sure she understands his quandary well, she lists out some options. Rather than directing the mentee to the decision you think is right, facilitate the mentor to make his own decision.
Ask the mentee if he has any ideas for a solution. Brainstorm with him on a whiteboard perhaps. Once you have several options on the board, have the mentee prioritize the options. Walk him through the decision making process to make the decision himself.
It may require more direction starting out. He may not want to make the decision at first. You might want to use your experience to help him identify advantages and disadvantages of each option. But the more you push him to make commitments, the more comfortable he will be making decisions.
Are you making decisions for your mentee or teaching him how to decide?
I welcome your questions and comments.