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How to be an effective mentor

Mentor Workshop Summary

On Wednesday 23rd March, mentors from the WFA Mentorship Program supported by Alltech joined an online workshop to explore how to be an effective mentor. They shared ideas and opinions on the challenges of having to guide a mentee through their career, building a relationship quickly, structuring meetings, and establishing goals for what they want to achieve throughout the partnership. To begin, we tasked each of the mentors to discuss three key questions in smaller groups of four to five other mentors varying in skills and years of experience in the industry. Each breakout discussion lasted ten minutes and following this the mentors were brought back to the main session to share what was discussed in each group with the rest of the mentors. Below is some feedback from the three questions they discussed:

1) What are the top characteristics that make a good mentor?

For this question the mentors offered interesting insights into what they felt makes a good mentor ranging from personal qualities to how to manage the relationship with a mentee. Mentors are not there to give answers, but to get their mentees on a path where they can find the right answers on their own. They take the role of a coach and so should be aware of this and work to develop this skillset. Qualities put forward by the mentors included being confident, decisive, a good listener and having an ability to build a relationship quickly. They also must be free of judgement, offer support to their mentees and be open so they can share their own experiences. These qualities play a vital role in helping to create a safe space where the mentee feels comfortable enough to talk about their current challenges and career aspirations. A very important point that was also raised is that there should be an understanding on both sides that mentorship should feel like a ‘give and take’ relationship . The mentor and mentee both have much to gain from each other’s experiences, despite being at different career levels, ages and places in their lives.

2) What are the questions you should be asking your mentee and things you should be finding out from them in your early meetings?

In the early meetings it is very important to learn about the mentees likes and dislikes, ask questions that build trust and focus on learning their mentee’s future prospects.  It is important to ask ‘how would you like to communicate moving forward?’ as some of our pairings meet in person and some virtually, some communicate via whatsapp and some email – it is important to pin down what works for you as a pairing.

In terms of building a relationship and allowing mentees to open up, our mentors believed you should identify what you have in common with them and ask questions about their biggest strengths and weaknesses in early meetings. These questions start opening up the mentee so they can talk more freely. It is also vital to understand what the mentee wants to get out of the relationship as this will allow you to tailor your meetings to meet their needs. Mentors should also be asking ‘what are your goals, and what are the timescales for those aims?’ as well as ‘what are your long-term aspirations and what are the barriers to these?’ These questions will provide the opportunity to understand more about the subjects that will be discussed in meetings and allow the mentor to plan ahead.

It is also beneficial to ask, ‘how do you like to receive criticism or feedback?’ as this will allow you to get your comments across to your mentee in the most appropriate way.  Mentors could also ask ‘what would you like to know about me?’ to get the dialogue going to make sure the session does not feel like an interview. It is also beneficial to set boundaries in your meetings and make clear that the topics discussed, and personal stories shared by the mentee in the meetings will be confidential. By asking the mentee if they are comfortable for you to take notes during the meeting you are creating a safe environment for the mentee to open up to you which increases transparency and helps to maintain trust throughout the pairing. Do ensure that the notes you make are not for personal use, but they are used to help with the agenda of future meetings. Another key point that was raised by a mentor was the need for a ‘debrief’ at the end of each meeting, this could involve having a personal conversation and checking if the mentee is moving at the same pace as them and is getting valuable insight from the meetings.

3) How can you structure and plan what to discuss in your meetings over the next year?

Once you have established the goals of the mentee, the timescales they want to achieve them in and the best means of communication, it is important for the mentor to pin down objectives that both you and the mentee can work towards. It would be helpful to give each meeting a theme and base this on challenges the mentee is facing that you would like to coach them through. It is important to be flexible as you can change the frequency of your meetings to reflect the how much time the mentee needs to address and overcome each challenge. You may also need to be flexible in terms of themes and content as the mentee’s goals may change and you may have to amend what you initially were working towards.

We believe that mentorship should be an ongoing relationship, therefore we encourage both mentors and mentees to continue offering each other support even after the year comes to an end. The relationship does not have to end after these goals have been achieved if both parties find value in the partnership and we hope some of these connections will last a lifetime

A special thank you to all of the mentors who took part in this session and were so open and honest. If you have any questions about scheme or require support you can email Ollie at olympia.theocharous@agribriefing.com or Melissa at Melissa.huizer@agribriefing.com

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