Mentoring has become a widely utilized process for just-in-time learning and development in organizations. A mentor is typically a subject matter expert who can provide appropriate direction and support to a team member.
Mentoring is often about teaching an individual how to do a task. Mentors are selected based on their expertise in a particular area. “I show you, you practice” is a common approach. This is completely appropriate for team members who do not have the knowledge or experience to get the job done.
Sometimes, though, an individual has the knowledge to succeed in a task but may not be applying their skills. In this situation, a coach approach can be more appropriate. To be effective as a mentor using coaching skills, keep in mind the following:
Take Time to Connect
Mentors can be intimidating—especially to a less experienced associate. Taking a couple of minutes to genuinely connect with the team member by checking in and developing rapport can build trust and improve the chances for a successful coaching experience.
Listen for Understanding
Often mentors do most of the talking, since they are in the teacher role. A mentor who is a skillful listener will be able to fine tune their instruction based on the needs of the team member. They will also be better able to pick up on subtle changes in motivation or confidence.
Ask Powerful Questions
Mentors like to help—that’s why they are mentors. Sometimes the most helpful approach is not fixing the problem or giving the answer. A mentor who is skilled at asking the right questions will be able to draw out the thinking of the other person and help them come to their own solutions. This fosters independence rather than dependence.
Skilled mentors use a variety of tools and techniques based on the needs of the people they are mentoring. There are times when providing clear direction and solutions to problems is completely appropriate—however, once a team member has the knowledge needed to perform, a mentor versed in coaching techniques can encourage independence and increased performance overall.
A good mentor teaches knowledge and skills. A great mentor uses coaching skills to develop the team member into a self-reliant achiever.