The Student Becomes the Teacher: Mentoring and Mentorship

There is no such thing as a solo journey in life. We receive assistance along the way from our parents, friends, teachers, and coaches. And when we reach the professional stage in our lives, mentors like coworkers and bosses help us succeed. 

As we progress in our careers, we may be asked to mentor others, but it may be intimidating to take the role, whether it occurs during employee orientation or throughout an employee’s tenure. Sometimes we don’t know what to say, what to do, or how to ensure employees understand their roles.  

Moving from student to teacher 

At many points in our lives, we are students. Being a mentor moves us from the role of student to teacher and trusted advisor. As a mentor, we act as a guide for a person (a mentee) in their career. We answer their questions, offer advice, provide resources, and brainstorm solutions to whatever problems they might face. In turn, the mentee gains confidence and feels secure knowing they have someone to turn to if they have any questions or concerns. 

But what makes a good mentor? How can we be good mentors? 

Practice clear communication and listening 

Being a mentor doesn’t mean interrupting people or talking over them. Great mentors establish guidelines for the mentor/mentee relationship and understand what you both want—and need—out of the relationship. For instance: 

  • Do they want support and advice? 
  • What goals do they have? 
  • What do they want to learn? How can you help fill in the gaps? 
  • What kinds of resources will help them get closer to their goals? 

You’re the expert in your position, and you should help your mentee learn about their role, not do it for them. As a mentor, you’re the coach, standing off the field, and your mentee is the person holding the ball and executing the plays. Be a listener—better yet, be an active listener. Any concerns or problems your mentee has, validate them. For example, if they’re having problems keeping up with multiple tasks and the pressure that comes with them, make them feel heard. Then, work with them to devise a solution. Once they feel confident knowing they can come to you about anything, they will feel comfortable with taking on more challenging tasks. 

Give constructive feedback 

Mentees are still learning about themselves and their career. One of the most effective ways to offer constructive feedback is to be honest. Openness about your struggles and what you’ve learned along the way lets them know their struggles are valid, builds trust, and strengthens your bond.  

See them as a person 

You may work closely with your mentee and know their goals and aspirations and what they need to succeed on the job—but do you know what makes them tick? What about their life outside of work? Their hobbies? What do they like to do on the weekends? Getting to know them personally contributes toward building a solid relationship and understanding who they are. 

Celebrate their successes 

Mentorships and the conversations that come out of them can often revolve around problems and how to solve them. But what about when your mentees do well or achieve workplace success? Congratulate them! Don’t hold back. Let them know that they did a good job and why they did a good job. 

Have good character  

The saying goes, “Character is who you are when no one is watching.” Your mentee learns from watching you and your actions, whether you realize it or not. They see how you communicate with others and how you handle workplace stress. Make sure you show character by how you handle situations; show them they have a choice regarding how they react. On the flip side, tell them what actions you took to achieve that outcome and display humility when things turn out well. 

Know what you’re getting into 

Mentorship is a rewarding task to take on, but approach it as something you want to do rather than as a task to check off on your to-do list. Being a mentor takes practice and patience, but the more you work with your mentee, the more you’ll learn about them as a person both in and outside the workplace—and it will be a rewarding experience for both you and them. 


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Photo by kasto