ElderAdvisor2 What Mentoring Skills Do You Need to Succeed?  Part 2

Guidance is a crucial mentoring skill

The first thing many people think of when it comes to mentoring skills is advice.  They assume that this is actually the definition of mentoring, i.e., giving advice to someone less experienced.  I’m here to tell you that this is not the case. Being an effective Guide to your protégé or mentee is much more powerful.

By always giving the answers (advice), your protégé or mentee will not learn how to think for him or herself.  He or she will simply come to rely on you for all the answers, and often blindly accept them as fact.  Can you imagine if you didn’t understand the whole story and gave the wrong advice to someone?  While this advice might seem helpful in the short run, it could be extremely harmful in the long run. This is not an effective mentoring skill for anyone.

Listening and guidance make up the two cornerstones of mentoring.  No one has all of the answers in life.  And, even if you do happen to know a lot, your mentee will only be able to learn and accept your vast knowledge through the lens of his or her own personal experiences.  In fact, mentees really only learn through mistakes and problem solving.  With that in mind, below are some tips on how to be a more effective guide:


1. Always be listening. Make sure you get a grasp on the entire situation and thoroughly listen to and understand your mentee before giving guidance.  Be patient, and you’ll avoid a lot of confusion and frustration for both of you.

2. Ask a lot of questions. When you have advice for your mentee, stop and think about what questions you can ask that might lead them to a deeper understanding of the problem or issue.  Guide them from what they know to what they don’t know, always leading into the unknown.  The goal is to ask open-ended questions that allow them to think about the problem in different ways and communicate their perceptions back to you.

Even if your mentee doesn’t come to the same conclusion as you, their ideas give you valuable insights to better understand and guide them. You may even be pleasantly surprised by the solutions they come up with due to your patient guidance!

3. Add value to your feedback. Providing feedback is important, but make sure you are able to communicate this feedback effectively.  This might mean including a summary of what you’ve heard as well as your own interpretation or viewpoint of their views or statements.  This gives the mentee the satisfaction of having been heard as well as more value in your response. Remember to keep your feedback constructive and not negative, unless you’re certain the relationship with your mentee is ready for it.

4. Illustrate your advice. Along the lines of adding value to feedback, stories and metaphors are the best!  Tell a relevant story from your own experience, then ask the mentee how they can apply it to their current situation. This is a great way to share your knowledge and experience in an interesting manner while also encouraging the mentee to think for him or herself.

5. Don’t deny help. If your mentee is lost and in need of advice, don’t automatically withhold it. Sometimes advice is good when given in a timely manner. Follow all the other steps that maximize your mentoring skills, but if these are not working don’t be afraid to give your protégé or mentee access to your knowledge and experience.  Simply talk out the problem.  Provide them with a basis for solutions and problem solving, then allow them to apply it to their own situation in a way that works for them.

The essence of this mentoring skill is to balance giving the answer (advice) with guiding your mentee through their own problem solving. The best way to do this is to get your mentee to think about – or meditate on – the problem or situation and then listen to what they have to say before handing out advice.

Once you master the mentoring skill of effective guidance, it won’t matter whether or not you have all the answers.  The power of your mutual intent will allow you to guide your mentee to the solutions they need!

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