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How to Be a Mentor

It’s a great honour to be asked to mentor someone, and whether that arrangement comes about as a result of an informal discussion or a formal corporate scheme, you should take the commitment to be a mentor seriously.

It’s also a good career opportunity for you – working with a more junior project manager can give you a different insight into project management topics and they are likely to have different experiences to share with you as well.

Look at the mentoring relationship as a partnership and remember that you can learn as much as they can from your discussions! Take any mentoring training on offer from your company: they may have support and training available from experienced mentors that you can benefit from.

So, now that you are ready to mentor a colleague, what should you bear in mind? Here are 5 tips for making your mentoring relationship a success.

1. Make a Mentoring Plan

What, exactly, are you both signing up for? Discuss and document what you both can commit to as you may find that your prospective mentee wants a lot more than you can offer.

You should both be happy with the level of commitment required. This could be anything from a monthly telephone conversation to a weekly face-to-face meeting so it’s important that you agree something that is going to work for you both.

You may have to build some flexibility into this. For example, if one of you is managing a project that is going through a particularly busy time or that involves a lot of travel then you might not be able to meet up in your regular slot. Most mentoring relationships can accommodate this but it’s worth talking about it before it happens.

The commitment forms the basis of your mentoring plan. Even if your arrangement is informal it is worth documenting what you have agreed so your mentoring plan forms a kind of ‘contract’ and you both have a clear idea about how you are going to work together.

2. Be Available

Once you’ve agreed to mentor a junior colleague, make sure that you can be available for them and not just in the pre-agreed meetings that you have arranged. It’s possible that they will have issues that they want to discuss with you at times outside of those formal meetings and it will benefit you both if you can make some time in your schedule to talk to them when they need it.

Equally, if you hear of an opportunity or something that affects the project that they are working on, don’t wait until your next scheduled discussion. Give them a call and chat it through.

3. Offer Advice

Mentoring isn’t just about listening to their problems and it’s not coaching. If they ask for advice, give it. You have a lot of project management knowledge to share and your experience is one of the reasons why this person chose you as their mentor. Of course, just because you give advice don’t expect them to take it! They can make their own decisions and may choose to do something else and that’s fine – don’t take it personally!

4. Be Confidential

The relationship between a mentor and a mentee should be confidential, so that you both have confidence that what you say in your meetings goes no further. This is important because you may be talking about office politics or the working relationship between your colleague and someone else on their project team. You both need to know that you can speak honestly and openly and that what is said won’t get reported back.

Make sure that your agreement to be confidential is part of the arrangement you put in place at the very beginning of your mentoring relationship.

5. Provide access to your network

One of the other reasons why your colleague chose you is likely to be for access to your network. If they are looking for a new job or are keen to get ahead and build their reputation, then they will appreciate being included in your network and the opportunities you can create for them.

You don’t have to put them forward all the time but remember that part of being a mentor is championing their interests. If you hear of a job opportunity or a new project that you think they might be interested in, then suggest them to the hiring manager. You will need to have a conversation with your mentee about what they are looking for in their future career so that you can look out for the right kinds of opportunities.

Mentoring is a great way to boost your career and gain new skills as well as supporting junior colleagues. And it’s a way to retain talent in the organisation, so the company benefits too. Why not sign up for your corporate mentoring scheme and offer your experience to someone else today?

A version of this article first appeared on the PMO Perspectives blog in 2014.



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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

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