Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a great mentor.
Mostly because my mentor for my internship has been absolutely amazing, but also because understanding what makes a good mentor can help me understand how to be a good mentee (is that even a word?) and because in the future if I want to help people, knowing how to do it well is important.
I’ve come up with some DOs and DON’Ts of being a good mentor based on my internship experience, but this list is by no list complete or exclusive to what truly makes a great mentor.
In photography there is something called the “rule of 3rds” that beginners usually learn in their first or second lesson, and this rule is supposed to make the composition of the photo pleasing to the eye.
However, that “rule of 3rds” isn’t really a rule. Or at least, not a rule in the sense of how we use the word “rule.”
Great, and even amateur photographers, break that rule all the time and get beautifully composed pictures as a result. The “rule” is more of a guideline for how to quickly make something look better, but the reason for why learning that rule is so important is because once you know the rule you also know when you should break it.
Just like the “rule of 3rds,” the “rules” below are just guidelines. In some cases it’s important to ignore one based on your knowledge of the mentee or do something that completely contradicts a rule because you believe it’s the best thing to do.
So… Here are the “rules” I came up with:
- Push your mentee farther than they think they can go
- Provide feedback on both what they’re doing well (very important), and what they could improve on (also very important)
- Understand they don’t know as much as you about what you’re teaching them, but don’t let them use that as an excuse for inaction
- Understand that you can learn as much from them as they from you
- Engage them in the process even if they might not be knowledgeable enough to contribute yet (eventually they will be)
- Understand that they are human and might have their own biases and life experience they bring to the table
- Give them the freedom and trust to work on their own projects, but let them know you’re always available if they need advice
- Be human
And here are the don’ts which are basically the opposites of the dos in my ways:
- Push your mentee so far that they end up burning out or reaching their breaking point
- Only provide negative feedback (unless you know for sure that your mentee is only driven by the stick and not the carrot)
- Expect your mentee to know everything they need to (there’s a reason why you’re the mentor and they’re the mentee)
- Ignore your mentee’s advice
- Disrespect your mentee (this goes for all people in general, but it’s important enough that I put it here)