“One of the defining moments of my life came in the fourth grade – the year I was Mrs. Duncan’s student. She encouraged me to read, and she often stayed after school to work with me… she helped me to not be afraid of being smart. She was my first true liberator who made me feel that I mattered.” – Oprah Winfrey, on her mentors.

We’ve all had a mentor like Mrs. Duncan in our life. More than two-thirds of CEOs report having mentors. If you’re looking to be a mentor to someone at work, know that mentorship has many flavors. But, all forms of mentoring have common practices, as highlighted in the story above, that make it successful:

  • Having an authentic relationship. Research by University of Wisconsin has shown that unless mentors and their mentees have a connected relationship, like a friendship, the impact of mentoring is negligible. It is the care and personal investment of the mentor in his/ her mentee, that makes a difference.
  • Building character over competence. Mentoring isn’t all about skill building or job competency. The best leaders go beyond competency, focusing on shaping other people’s character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect. Just like Mrs. Duncan did, for Oprah.
  • More cheerleading. Constructive feedback is necessary. But, as a mentor, you are rooting for your mentee. Stay high on the optimism before being critical – use venture capitalist Anthony Tjan’s 24×3 rule. Each time you hear a new idea, spend atleast 24 seconds, 24 minutes, or 24 hours thinking about why the idea is good before you criticize it.

With the above foundation in place, when you are ready to mentor, add these three questions to your toolbox:

  1. What does success look like to you? We all want success, and, everyone’s idea of it is different. Find out your mentee’s notion of success, be it for their life, a present challenge they have, or their job. It’ll help highlight their values, prioritize actions, and define outcomes.
  2. What is in your control right now? This is ideal for when someone is in a crisis, feeling overwhelmed or stressed. It shifts the focus from ruminating about factors outside their control, to what they can do about the situation. It offers short-term, stop-gap solutions, while you work on long-term ones.
  3. Would you like to tell me a little more? As a mentor, your role is to help your mentee form their own opinion/ thoughts, instead of offering yours. This question prompts a more detailed exploration of the current topic. It can help reveal possibilities, more solutions, new perspectives, biases, and what not.

As American politician John Crosby said, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” Are you gearing up for it?

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