If you’ve ever had a mentor, you know the kind of effect they can have on a person. Whether it was a coach, a teacher, a parent, a relative, a neighbor, their influence probably shaped the person you are today.
And if you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, especially a work mentor, that may seem like a lot of pressure. How can you be sure you’ve got something beneficial to offer? How do you measure success? And even before all that—just, where do you start? Well, how about here?
What is the role of a mentor?
Put simply, a mentor is a trusted counselor, advisor, or guide. That trust is crucial to the success of any mentor; you have to build and nurture it with the person you’re mentoring.
Hakeem Gaines, Director of BAYADA’s Charlotte Pediatrics North office, has been involved in mentorship at BAYADA since he got here, just under five years ago. “I think, for me, personally, a mentor is someone that assists in building a bridge to a goal or shortens a distance in a person’s development. The mentor is there to help make things a little bit easier for you, to help you learn from their mistakes, and to add a little wisdom to your journey.”
Hakeem Gaines, Mentor and Director of Charlotte Pediatrics North
As kids, mentors tended to be the adults in your life. But as you grow up, you begin to comprehend that mentors can also be your peers. As an athlete in college, Hakeem realized that mentoring was a part of his role on the football team. He was responsible for the next person up—if someone was injured, or if there was a unique situation that called for them to get subbed in—that person was his responsibility. He probably wouldn’t have considered himself a mentor then, but looking back, that’s when he cut his teeth. That’s when he got the bug.
In his early twenties, he got involved with some faith-based organizations that were focused on community service—part of that being mentorship. Then he went on to mentor first-generation American kids in high school with the iMentor program. Throughout his life, he has been a mentor in official and unofficial capacities, as an entrepreneur, and now as a leader at BAYADA.
“I don’t know that in those types of unofficial mentorship roles I would consider myself a mentor or they would consider themselves a mentee. More so, it’s a situation where I am someone that’s able to offer some value from my experience that’s helping them.”
The mentor mentee relationship
One of the benefits of mentoring is that, oftentimes, a successful mentorship can turn into a lasting relationship—a friendship, even. That's why it’s so important to avoid getting lost in terms like mentee and mentor; they can create a power dynamic that there just doesn’t need to be.
Truthfully, there isn’t some level of expertise you need to possess in order to be a mentor. We all have experiences that in some way, shape, or form could be lent to others and aid in their developmental goals.
In fact, many mentors go into their experience and find themselves asking for advice from their mentees. As with any relationship, the roles are fluid and ever-changing. Embracing that is key.
What should you do if you want to be a good mentor?
Make the time. Everyone’s time is valuable, right? You’ve got family, friends, and your own work, and it’s easy to lose touch with your mentee when things start getting hectic. Scheduling regular meetings, check-ins, connections—however you want to phrase it—creates structure in what can otherwise be a very natural, organic relationship.
Let the mentee steer the “ship.” “I think it’s important that you allow the person who is seeking out the support to guide a lot of this,” Hakeem says. “I think you can offer your insight on what has worked best in the past, but I think most folks—professionals, adults that have had careers—they have a good sense of what they need and how often they need it. What’s more important is to create this open door policy, so to speak. I do think there needs to be some sort of cadence, but I think what’s more important than the frequency of the connection is the quality when you connect. Are you connecting on things that are meaningful? Are there takeaways that can be put into practice that are beneficial to that person and what they’re attempting to achieve?”
Be curious. Be willing to engage with your mentee about what’s going on with them—what challenges they’re having. Ask questions. Be genuine about your care and concern for what’s going on for them and seeing where you have an opportunity to insert yourself for their benefit and vice-versa.
Show up as your best self. Hakeem puts it this way: “That person you’re mentoring is expecting that when they have the conversation with you, you’re bringing them something that’s useful. And I don’t think you can do that if you’re not showing up engaged.” That means making time ahead of the conversation to review notes or remember some of the things that were talked about last time, mull them over, and be able to show up and speak with those things in mind.
Listen actively. In conversations, sometimes there’s more lurking beneath the surface. A mentor’s job is not to just give advice and talk at a person. You don’t have to have all the answers or fix anything for your mentee. There’s a lot of power in letting someone talk through their issues. Mentors should listen and ask questions that force their mentees to explore something a little deeper and perhaps come to the answer on their own.
Create the opportunity. Asking someone to be your mentor can be nerve-wracking. So, if you’d like to mentor, it can be easier for you to start the momentum. For example, if someone is new to the company, check in with them, ask how they’re doing, and offer help. Something like, “Hey, I know it took me a long time to get comfortable and acclimated to my role, but if you need anything at all, reach out to me.”
Mentorship at work
Many workplaces, including BAYADA, have created official mentorship programs that employees can partake in. But everyone should have an unofficial mentor already—their boss.
"As a leader, I think part of your role is being a mentor,” Hakeem says. “As you help others grow and develop, you’re helping yourself grow and develop. What I want to do is create a team of individuals that are all pushing me to be better.”
When you’re a leader, it’s your responsibility to monitor the growth of your employees—to highlight what they’re doing really well, while still recognizing areas that need some development. But it’s not just enough to point those things out; a great leader assists their teammates in achieving their goals.
Great leaders don’t just focus on managing the day-to-day stuff that needs to get done. You need to connect with people, getting to know them and their struggles and insecurities—the reasons why they do the things they do. If you don’t understand what informs their decisions, then you can’t be the best possible support for your team.
For Hakeem, leadership and mentorship is synonymous. And mentorship is about empathy and vulnerability. “I think I’ve learned a lot about myself from my team and the folks that I work with on a daily basis. There’s been some things that I’ve done wrong, and they’ve said, ‘Hey, Hakeem, this didn’t feel right.’ Or, ‘You said this, and now we’re doing something totally different.’ And I think being confident enough to be vulnerable with your team is a big part of leadership, but also a big part of mentorship.”
Having mentorship opportunities in the workplace is not only good for supporting employees in their goals, but it can also help create a more diverse and inclusive work environment, too.
“Mentorship creates the space for people of different backgrounds with different thought processes and different experiences to engage purposefully and in a meaningful way,” Hakeem explains. “I think when you have this collection of different experiences and perspectives and backgrounds, it lends itself to broadening the perspective of everyone involved, right? It helps you see the world very differently from the way you see it on a daily basis.”