Mentorship is an important part of being an experienced and influential leader. While mentorship often focuses on mentees’ value, mentorship is also an important and developmental experience for executive leaders. First, being a mentor keeps you close to the work of your juniors and clear on the challenges they have to address. Beyond staying relevant to how your organization and industry operate, mentorship is a premier way to build your personal influence as a leader. Read more about mentorship’s effect on building your influence.

Of course, one of the largest draws to taking on the role of mentor is to give back to the business community and provide a way to coach and help younger career women find the path to their individual greatness. One of the biggest pushbacks on becoming a mentor is often the time commitment. It’s important to note that a proper mentorship agreement isn’t signing a blank check for your time with someone. Successful mentorship happens as a four-phase process and, yes, comes to an end.

Read Mentorship: Top 10 Take-Aways

The Four Phases of Mentorship

Prepare Yourself: Take stock of your strengths, accomplishments, and the lessons you have learned over the years of your career. Consider your career experiences and how they can benefit a potential mentee. Because what you can offer will need to match the needs of your prospective mentee, what they want to learn, and the skills they want to develop as a mentee.

Find Your Mentee: Your success as a mentor, especially becoming a great mentor, means you need to understand your potential mentee. Where are they in their career compared to your current position? While having a VP as a mentor sounds great on paper, if they haven’t been involved in the mentee’s current position in more than a decade, the lack of relevance can actually end up doing more harm than good. Learn your mentee’s goals and be certain that you have experience that can be beneficial in helping them achieve their personal goals.

Nurturing Your Mentee: This phase is the bread and butter of mentorship. Once you understand what you can offer a mentee and confirms it matches the mentee’s needs, you can begin working together, helping the mentee gain experience and find their success. Your relationship should be filled with scheduled check-ins that offer feedback, support, and constructive criticism. Another critical aspect of the mentor-mentee relationship is helping them celebrate the small victories along the way. 

Closing Your Mentorship: When should you end your mentorship? It’s important to set an expectation that your mentorship will end, and determine when and why it will come to a close. First, if your mentee achieves their goal(s) they came to you for help to achieve, it’s time to bring your mentorship to an end. Review your mentor check-ins. Are there still areas where you are providing new feedback that your mentee is implementing? If not, your relationship may be reaching the end of its usefulness. It may be time to extend the time between your check-ins or bring the relationship to a close. 

When ending your mentorship, make it an event. Express appreciation for your mentee with all the positives you have received from the mentorship. Consider all that you’ve learned, especially as a mentor. By reviewing your mentorship experience, you can learn more about yourself and how you can improve upon your methods for your next mentee. 

Preparing to Be a Great Mentor

Like many things, thinking critically about your role and planning for your mentorship will set you and your future mentee up for success. The first step to preparing for a new mentorship is understanding why you want to be a mentor and what a potential mentee will gain from their relationship with you. 

It’s not uncommon for a mentor to struggle with providing too much or too little guidance for your mentee. What’s most important is that you can see a clear way of helping a potential mentee. Focus on helping your mentee form and achieve their goals without impressing your goals and desires onto them. Think of the insight, context, and experience you have compared to a prospective mentee, as these are key areas where you can provide them much-needed guidance. Consider the ideas you can share, stories you can tell of your personal experience related to their goals and challenges, and how you can help a mentee dig deeper into the issues they are addressing.

And, when considering all this during your preparation, if you can’t see a straightforward way to aid a potential mentee, don’t. Instead, think through your network and help the prospective mentee connect with someone you know who might be better suited to mentoring them, or at least helping them find a great mentor that matches their current needs.

The last step in preparation is taking a critical look at your availability. Do you have the emotional availability, physical availability, and time to serve as a mentor? It’s vital to ensure you have the resources to serve as a great mentor for your mentee. Creating a contact schedule can help guarantee you stay available as a mentor. Developing structured recurring check-ins and dedicating times when your mentee can reach out when they need it is beneficial. 

The Mentoring Loop

The process for working with a mentee is deceptively simple. In three steps, as a mentor, you need to listen to your mentee, ask questions, and advise. Repeating this three-step process helps you have precise and insightful interactions with your mentee. Start by listening to your mentee. What challenges are they currently facing, and how do they relate to the goals you helped the mentee lay out for their mentorship? Ask clarifying questions to better understand the situation’s context, your mentee’s position, and what tactics your mentee has already attempted to improve the current situation. What was the result of those attempts?

Finally, after listening to your mentee and doing your best to understand the current situation in a holistic sense, begin to advise your mentee. Make sure your mentee understands your advice and has the opportunity to ask questions about the advice and how they can implement it most effectively. It can be helpful to ask leading questions such as, “what hurdles can you imagine coming across if you try this?” These types of questions can start your mentee thinking proactively about their situation.

Skills for Great Mentors

Here is a list of skills you should add to your mentorship toolbox and refine over time. 

Great Mentors Have Enthusiasm for Mentorship

Many of us remember having a college course taught by a research professor. You could always tell they were not interested in teaching the class, and doing so was a burden. You don’t want to be that for a mentee. You must cultivate and show an earnest and eager desire to invest in others. 

Great Mentors Define Their Goals & Relationship

As mentioned previously, it’s imperative to set the expectations for your mentorship journey with a mentee. These expectations include defining goals, a schedule for check-ins, defining communication expectations, and helping create mentorship goals you and your prospective mentee agree upon. 

Great Mentors Are Positive Role Model

Taking on the mantle of mentorship means placing yourself in a position where one or more people will look to you for advice on what they should do and how they should act. You must walk the walk. Another part of being a positive role model as a mentor is being vulnerable and sharing the bad with the good of your personal journey. Showcase your humility, share the mistakes you made along the way, and the negative experiences that helped define the leader you are today. Being human and sharing your experiences makes you a strong leader and helps build your personal influence.

Great Mentors Continue to Grow

One of the questions to consider when choosing a mentor noted in How to Find a Good Mentor, is to look for a mentor that continues to work on improving themself. What are you doing to improve yourself personally and professionally? For executive women, peer advisory like EWF’s Executive Peer Advisory Forum is a great way to continue growing and refining your abilities as a leader. 

Great Mentors Are Relevant

Often, the success of mentorship relies on the mentor’s experience, knowledge, and success to the mentee’s current situation, challenges, and goals. As a senior VP, you may be very excited to help and shape an entry-level employee’s success, but it’s likely that in the years since you were an entry-level employee that your experience was widely different from what it is today. If you are a decade or more removed from the mentee’s current situation, you can be of most help by finding a potential mentor with more relevant experience.

Great Mentors Offer the Right Advisement at the Right Time

Sometimes a great mentor needs to be tough. Offer constructive criticism that is direct and honest but always respectful. Then help build your mentee up by motivating and inspiring them to continue forward. An often overlooked part of mentorship is ensuring that you always recognize and validate your mentee’s accomplishments, be sure to celebrate their achievements and milestones while offering empathy and keeping your mentee accountable when they miss goals. Listen actively to your mentee, be curious, and show appreciation for their situation. Avoid coloring your mentorship by comparing their experiences as more or less severe than your own.

Great Mentors Teach Mentees to Fish

Great mentors don’t give out the answers or do the work for their mentees. Being a mentor is not about making decisions for another person’s career. Focus your mentorship on helping your mentee learn how to do for themselves. Help your mentee step back and ask why questions about the current challenge. Help expand their perception, identify the stakeholders, recognize their blind spots, and improve their emotional intelligence.

Great Mentors Don’t Tell Mentees What To Do

As a mentor, you want to focus on offering guidance. Provide your mentee with information and answer questions, but avoid telling your mentee what to do and what decisions to make. Avoid impressing your own biases and impulses on your mentee while helping them identify and account for their own when deciding on a course of action. 

From Great Mentor to Sponsor

Consider the next step beyond mentorship by being a sponsor. A sponsor offers all the same work and benefits of mentorship with an additional layer of investment. As a sponsor, you advocate for your mentee/sponsee in public and private. This advocacy is critical because research shows that women, as a whole, are“over-mentored and under-sponsored. Use your political credibility and relationship capital to grant access to opportunities, people, and roles the mentee couldn’t get on their own. Sponsorship plays a critical role in addressing the “broken rung” obstacle women face in workplace gender parity.

Addressing the Broken Rung with EWF International

We know that the biggest obstacle facing gender parity in the workplace is the reduced rate of women who successfully transition from individual contributors to management. Improved access to mentors, sponsors, and leadership development are prime targets for improving gender parity at the broken rung level. There is more you can do to help create the next generation of women business leaders. Sponsor a bright, young woman in EWF International’s Emerging Leaders program to gain the skills needed to move from individual contributor to leader.