~ by Randy Wagner

Tips for Successful Mentoring and Why It Matters

Very few of us are truly self-made. For the vast majority of us, someone—often several people—were there to offer training, guidance, and wisdom. However, we should never be the final repository of all that knowledge. It should be shared like a delicious meal or a fine bottle of wine. It’s not easy and it comes with responsibility, but it can be enormously rewarding.  Here are a few tidbits to make it a success.

#1 – Help People Navigate Situations with a Broad Understanding of the Task

Mentoring is all about context. Everything else is technical training. A good mentor can help another person evaluate situations, make decisions with broader positive effect, and allocate resources where they can yield the best results. Where to go next, who to talk to, how much effort to spend on something—these are all core questions that drive productivity and success. No matter what level of the organization they are at, an individual can benefit from a wider understanding of the task, the organization, the industry, and so on.

#2 – Make the Commitment to be Available in a Consistent and Timely Manner

Mentorship requires both time and timing. If you are inaccessible or slow to respond, the value of the information you provide and its positive impact declines. Commit to the effort and even if it’s a quick response that can be expanded on later, you can provide enough reassurance to help someone navigate an immediate challenge.

#3 – Check Your Facts Against Your Familiarity with a Topic

Be prepared. If you know the topic that your mentee is seeking to understand, make sure you have your facts straight as familiarity can lead to laziness. The world moves fast and those who stop learning risk fading into history. Don’t steer others wrong by resting solely on your experience.

How to Overcome the Challenges of Mentoring

Perhaps the hardest part of mentoring is taking your hands off the wheel and letting them drive. When teaching my daughter to drive, I quickly learned that it was an unexpected abdominal exercise—constantly tensing and untensing—as she navigated parking lots and traffic.

Allow Your Mentee to Make Mistakes and Learn from Them

Your charges won’t learn if they don’t take the helm and make decisions for themselves. Not all of their decisions will be correct, just as yours likely were not. Accept that they will do things differently and make mistakes. They are not you, just like you are not the person who mentored you. Decision making is a skill like any other that improves with practice. If the mentee reports to you, then you have the luxury of increasing their responsibility as their judgement and experience improves. Incremental changes are obviously key.

Share the Responsibility and Ownership of Decisions and Mistakes

Remember that the responsibility is not only theirs. Advise them to the best of your ability, and when they fail, help them assess, learn, and move on. Make that planning part of the pre-decision risk management discussion. If they fail following your recommendations, own that too. None of us are perfect. Neither of you should think the other is infallible. But never lose sight of the basic premise behind mentoring—it is better that the mentee learn from your mistakes than from their own.

Mentoring is an Invaluable Tool When Done with Care and Commitment

Mentoring is meant to elevate or expand the skills of another person. It is not always sought after and, sometimes, it is not well-received or even well-given for that matter. It may not even be a conscious act. However, when it is a concerted effort, and encouraged by management, it can be an invaluable tool for growing the company’s future. Mentorship is a role each of us should seek out when we have something to offer. Mentoring enriches the soil and allows us to enjoy the garden as time passes.

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies. He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, configuration management, and automation.