Mentorship is an art.
Most successful students have that one teacher, the one that shaped their path and helped them find success. What these students are benefitting from is mentorship. Unlike teaching, mentorship involves guidance in the practical application of what a student has learned.
For example, in algebra we’re taught the order of operations and how to calculate solutions using it. But, that doesn’t teach us how to apply it in our real lives. Most of us don’t make our money by solving arithmetic problems on a piece of paper someone handed to us. Rather, we encounter these problems in our day-to-day life, like when we buy a house and take out a mortgage. We can use what we learned, order of operations, to calculate our interest payments and sales tax.
That’s the importance of a mentor—taking a lesson and making it stick. Empowering and challenging a student to become their best. Just like Yoda did for Luke in Star Wars.
Being a mentor isn’t something just anyone can do.
Though there are a variety of of ways to mentor, certain attributes are the same for every great mentor. When looking for a mentor, or seeking to become one, be sure to look for:
- Careful listening: An excellent mentor should pay close attention to what the student wants, their obstacles, and state of mind. In order to meet the student where they are so you can guide them to where they want to be, you have to pay attention to them! Mentorship isn’t about glory or listening to your own voice—it’s about connecting with a student on a deeper level to help them achieve their goals.
For students seeking mentors: If you repeat yourself often or feel you aren’t being listened to, it may be time to find a new mentor. You should expect your mentor to challenge you and at times, disagree with you, but they should always listen and acknowledge what you say. The truly great ones will even pick up on the things you aren’t saying.
For mentors: If you are doing most of the talking most of the time, there’s probably an issue. Either you’re dominating the relationship, and it’s more about you than the student, or you aren’t leaving space for your student to grow. Eclipsing a student or holding their hand too much will handicap them. Though your student is looking for leadership, remember that the best leaders do so from behind. Have your student run the agenda for your meetings and truly listen to what they have to say.
- A genuine belief in the student: one of a mentor’s most important roles is to believe in the student as much as they should believe in themselves. Confidence is earned through hard work and continued encouragement through failures and successes. Students want to succeed, so mentors should work with them to reframe their failures as learning opportunities. If the mentor believes the student can rise above, one day so will the student.
For students: Your mentor should “have your back”. That means, even on a bad day, they’re supporting your efforts and helping your course correct. That doesn’t mean they’re always going to praise you; it means they’re always going to tell you that you can. They’ll be there to lend a hand when you fall and help dust you back off for the next try.
For mentors: There is a fine line between constructive feedback and deconstructive criticism. It’s your job to find it and maintain the balance. It may be different from student to student, which is where the careful listening comes in handy. Always be truthful, and always be kind. Failures are not the end of the world. Neither are successes. Often times both are beginnings, so frame them as such. Both are lessons learned and should encourage the student to keep progressing.
- A goal-setting mentality: a mentoring relationship is only successful if it culminates in results. Results can only be measured if there are goals! A student that asks for a mentor is seeking something specific. They want guidance to achieve something. A mentor should be able to help the student mold and organize those goal to create a path forward. It’s important the goals are measurable, attainable, and orderly. If a student says their goal is to win the Nobel Prize, it’s a mentor’s job to break that much larger goal down into measureable, logical steps that are actually achievable based on where the student is today. That’s not to say the Nobel Prize is completely unattainable—there are just many steps before that goal can be realized.
For students: You want to work with a mentor who helps you set the right goals, in the right order. According to Angela Duckworth, bestselling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and CEO of Character Lab, goal-setting works better when you have specifically targeted short-term goals that are attainable. Your mentor should help you design a path forward, marked with milestones and always aimed at your greater purpose.
For mentors: Mentor and guide are interchangeable—you provide direction. in some cases, your student may be very clear on where they want to go. You can best serve those students by helping them break the large goal down into smaller tasks that build confidence and propel them forward. Other times, your students may not know exactly where they’re headed. It’s up to you to help them see the potential pathways and choose the one best suited for their long-term vision. It may take some time to get there, but if you help them build a goal-setting mentality, they’ll have the tools they need to achieve success.
I believe great mentors make all the difference for students. Access to resources and support are invaluable! For more tips on how to achieve success, subscribe by clicking here. I strive to provide robust content that helps propel you closer to your goals.