'How To' Manual: Five Principles a Mentor Should Live By

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A mentor can be an indispensable asset to a company and its employees, yet data shows that many establishments do not have formal mentoring programs.

This reality is a result of several factors, including the conception that establishing a structured system would be time consuming and costly. Bill Belknap, a Five O'clock Club coach, suggests that many companies want to be perceived as egalitarian and therefore shy away from formal mentoring programs as they can develop into a bureaucratic process. For this reason, companies believe they are better off delegating informal mentors to their employees.

Belknap asserts that informality is not a solution and that it is crucial to understand how important mentors can be as they "give people tips on how to avoid political and organizational mind fields."

Here are the five principles that Belknap suggests every mentor should live by:

1. Must have experience in order to have credibility and lend advice

• In order to be a mentor, you should have a significant amount of experience working with different aspects and interacting with a variety of employees in order to have a broad perspective.

2. Be supportive of your "mentee"

• Especially if they make a mistake.

• Give them responsibilities like being included in a portion of a project or presentation, or let them give a presentation on their own.

• Frequently ask them for their ideas.

3. Accentuate positives, but do offer constructive criticism

• Put emphasis on building upon, and complementing, their strengths.

Tip: Ask the mentee to critique himself or herself. This is particularly powerful because, contrary to popular belief, most of us are harder on ourselves than we need to be.

Tip: Ask the mentee what they have learned from an event. Then the mentor can add his/her suggestions on how they would have handled the issue.

• If there is a truly serious matter then negative feedback should be given behind closed doors.

4. Be accessible, but not so accessible that you become an enabler

• Setting up a weekly meeting time with your mentee is a good way to avoid this.

• Setting up a few guidelines so they know when to come see you immediately and when to wait for the weekly meeting. For example, let your mentee know that if a problem is stopping them from moving forward on an assignment, to please come see you ASAP.

Weekly meeting tip: Find time to grab coffee together before work or eat in the conference room over your lunch break so it doesn't impact productivity.

5. Be willing to let the mentee fail

• When you can see it coming, first ask, what are the strengths of this approach? If the risks are not serious let them try their idea then debrief afterwards but hopefully not with an "I told you so" tone.

Tip: Ask your mentee “if you could do it over, what would you change?”

Bill has thirty years of senior management and human resources experience and has been coaching managers and executives for over 25 years. He is a certified Five O’Clock Club Career Coach and is the co-author of For Executives Only. Applying Business Techniques to Your Job Search.

He regularly speaks to networking groups about the “ins and outs” of conducting an effective job search. Bill is considered an expert on networking and has taught networking to over a thousand executives.