Role of the mentor

Everyone needs a helping hand when stuck. As a mentor and mentee myself, I know how it feels like when there is someone to show the right path. And I do believe that the best mentorships are characterized by mutual respect, trust, shared values, and good communication, and they find their apotheosis in the mentee’s transition to mentor.

As American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead once quoted “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”

If you can read between the lines, the quote very well defines the working aspect of mentoring.

Given how important mentoring is, there’s surprisingly limited guidance about how to become a good mentor. I would like to offer here an informal set of guidelines for good mentorship, a playbook, if you will, for a game that is very much a team sport.

Run a Tight Ship 

The mentor role needn’t take an excessive amount of time. Establishing firm and clear ground rules with mentees can improve efficiency.

To begin, clarify what your mentee expects from the relationship, match it against your expectations, and reach consensus. You may have misapprehension as to the mentee’s long-term goals, while the mentee may have an exaggerated notion as to what services you will provide. Such misunderstandings are costly, in terms of time and tranquility. These differences should be resolved explicitly and early in every mentoring relationship. In my experience, the most successful relationships are ones where the mentee fully understands and shares their mentor’s vision for success.

Establishing a cadence for communication is what I would like you to focus on as a mentor. Most mentors want to keep up with major developments in their mentees’ work, but dislike unscheduled phone calls or a flood of emails for minor issues. To avoid this scenario, I keep my communication channels open by meeting my mentees in person monthly to discuss issues in depth.

If an unexpected or time-sensitive issue arises outside of this meeting, we expect an email or call that is on-point, with questions framed to facilitate “yes” or “no” answers. For this to work, the mentor and mentee have to be disciplined about keeping their scheduled meetings.

Finally, make it clear that accountability isn’t optional. Being an effective mentors, you need to educate mentees about the standards of the profession and ensure they live up to them. If a mentee produces second-rate or tardy work, both the mentee’s and mentor’s reputations suffer. Deadlines must be honoured, commitments to projects kept, and appointment times adhered to. Mentees must respect mentors’ time. Essential mentee behaviors include setting up an agenda ahead of meetings and assuring that mentors have adequate time in advance to review any related materials. (That would include giving mentors a week or two to look at a draft of a manuscript or grant proposal.)

Part of assuring accountability involves making sure that mentees understand that they are, in effect, your student. They should expect and welcome constructive criticism. Mentees must also understand that repeating the same mistakes is unacceptable and that a single egregious error, such as data fabrication or plagiarizing, may end the relationship or worse.

It is my responsibility to ensure the accumulated wisdom and expertise must be passed on to the next generation. Good mentors make this process conscious, discussing challenges and satisfactions of mentorship with mentees. This informal guide should give you an insight on mentor- mentee relationship and the code of honour.

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