On How To Be A Good Mentor

A student wrote in asking me this question: how should one approach mentorship, while remaining friends, or while being a senior, or both.

Well, a certain television series has one answer to this question, and I could take the easy way out, but here goes:

  1. For a mentorship to work, even a little bit, the mentee has to value the time of the mentor. This bit is non-negotiable. As a mentor, you have the right to ask that this be done, and you have the right to walk away if it is not done. This should be crystal clear throughout.
  2. But then again, on the other side, as the mentor you have to be ultra-professional yourself. That means showing up on time without fail, being prepared yourself, and dedicating the time that you promised. I am less than perfect in this regard, I am sorry to say.
  3. A good mentor nudges, but doesn’t become overbearing. Learning the art of pushing ever-so-gently is very, very difficult, and most mentors never learn it. Some mentors (and I think I am one of them) err on the side of pushing too little, which is also a problem. I find it easy to remain friends with my mentee, I find it difficult to push them to do better.
  4. Think of it as a spectrum (or if you want to geek out, like a two tailed test). The intensity that you bring to the table as a mentor can err on the side of being too little, as in my case, or too much. Both aren’t good, you want your intensity to be Goldilocks level. This intensity level differs on the basis of each separate mentee. Some need no nudges whatsoever, some require Evergiven levels of pushing. Most lie somewhere in between.
  5. But before starting on your job as a mentor, you should ask yourself which role you’d rather give up if it came right down to it: continue to be friends and stop mentoring, or continue mentoring and stop being friends.
  6. Whatever your choice, be consistent, and don’t hesitate to pull the trigger. In my case, I usually choose to continue being friends, and if I think a mentorship isn’t turning out well, I stop the mentoring gig, and as quickly as possible.
  7. Always try to mentor someone, and always try to get someone to be your mentor. Apply what you learn while being on one side of the fence to the other.
  8. It is easier to find a new mentor, it is difficult to find a new (good) friend. That’s my opinion, so I would rather continue to be a good friend, and sacrifice my role as a mentor if I had to choose.
  9. But that being said, as far as possible, avoid being a mentor to a really good friend.
  10. Never, ever make the mistake of commercializing the mentor-mentee relationship. Some things in life are sacred.*

*But cups of coffee being purchased by the mentee are fine. I’m just sayin’