Mentoring Basics: Part 4

There is an unspoken code of behavior that exists in mentoring relationships. Unfortunately, since it’s unspoken, both participants in the mentoring relationship, unknowingly and unintentionally, may end up doing the ‘wrong thing.’ All individuals come to a new relationship with different styles of communication, different points of view and different expectations. Working in a new relationship with someone very different from you is a skill. As with any skill, the more you practice, the easier it gets. At the very minimum, relationship skills required for mentoring include, showing kindness, practicing patience and flexibility, and conveying a sense of appreciation for the individual’s accomplishments.

To give full credit where it’s due, the previous paragraph was pulled from the website of the National Society of Professional Engineers.  In researching for this post, I came across their webpage on mentoring relationships and the words were perfect for how I wanted to introduce this week’s topic:  Dos and Don’ts of the Mentoring Relationship.

We are in the final stretch now, past relationship initiation and on in to the meat of the relationship.  Quite honestly though, this portion of the relationship is defined by you (the mentor).  Mentorships are just like any other relationship, they’re all different.  And you are going to have to find what works best for you with each mentee.  The best that I can do at this point is provide you with some basic tools for your locker that may help along the way.

As I mentioned, in doing some research – scouring the internet – I came across several recurring themes for successful mentorships.  I’ve distilled them down in to a list of 10 DOs and 10 DON’Ts for Mentors to help on your journey.


  • Be Honest.  As a mentor, you should first and foremost be honest.  This doesn’t give you a license to be overly abrupt, insincere, or brutally forthcoming.  You need to lift your mentee up. It also doesn’t mean that you have to overly sugar coat or be Pollyanna-ish in your delivery.  You are in a rare position to provide an honest and balanced perspective to help your mentee grow and develop.
  • Be Respectful.   Build your relationship on the foundation of mutual respect.  As the mentor, you should set the example.  Respect your mentee; who they are, what they believe, their experiences, and their opinions.
  • Listen.  Do more than just hear the words your mentee says.  Listen and understand what they are communicating.  If you don’t understand, ask questions.  Listening intently allows you to understand so that you can better serve them, but also shows that you are interested and care.  Be in the moment and focus on them.  Remove any unnecessary distractions (e.g., blackberry, email, etc.) from the environment.
  • Encourage and Motivate.  You should lift your mentee up throughout the mentorship.  You are their “go to” for support and encouragement. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be honest (see above); you should.   However, your words, tone, and support should strengthen and inspire them.  Find ways to motivate them to positive action.
  • Appreciate and Celebrate.  Thank your mentee for their efforts and appreciate them as they take steps towards their goals.  Celebrate the wins, regardless of the size.
  • Guide and Suggest.  Don’t give them all the answers straight away.  Guide them down the path, but let them learn along the way.  Try suggesting action rather than telling them how to do it (e.g., “Have you thought about…?”).  Better yet, ask open-ended questions that allow them to figure out the answer.  They will learn much more.
  • Build Trust.  Throughout your mentorship, you should maintain a relationship built on trust.  You both have to trust each other with the information you share.  Don’t do anything that would make them feel that their trust has been misplaced.  Keep information that your mentee share’s with you confidential and to yourself.
  • Introduce.  Help expand your mentee’s network.  Introduce them to people that they don’t know; especially those outside of their own network and work area.
  • Offer Perspective.  Provide a different or alternate perspective of events or situations. When appropriate, play the devil’s advocate.   Help them see the broader picture.
  • Be Professional.  I saw this tenet in almost every “mentoring tips” site that I visited; therefore I will emphasize the importance by making it the final DO.  Make sure to keep your relationship professional.  Becoming too good of friends can blur your objectivity and judgment, which will make it difficult to be effective.  You also don’t want to cross any other lines that may damage your reputation, integrity, or career.   Keep it professional.



  • Assume They Know.  Never assume that mentee’s know information, how to act, what to do, or anything else for that matter.  This doesn’t mean to treat them like a child, but it does mean that you shouldn’t make assumptions.  So, ask them if they know.  If they answer with an unconvincing, “Yeah, I know”, have them explain it to you or tell you what they know.  Example:  “Do you understand our ethics policy?  Tell me what you know about it.” 
  • Be Inconsistent.  Don’t be erratic.  There is enough inconsistency in our environment; they don’t need it from you too. They need you to be a stable factor in their life.   Be consistent in the way that you act, hold meetings, and provide direction. Be punctual.  Do what you say you are going to do.  Expect the same out of them.
  • Be Vague. Don’t be ambiguous or veiled with direction.  You want them to learn for themselves, but you don’t want them to see you as wishy-washy, indecisive, or unclear either.  There is a balance to be struck between providing clear direction (when appropriate) and guiding them down the path so that they learn for themselves.
  • Expect a Clone.  Don’t think that they are going to turn out just like you, act like you, react like you, or process information like you.  Let them be them.  It’s okay – you don’t want a mini-me anyway.  You want them to meet the fullness of their potential, not yours.
  • Act on Their Behalf.  Don’t represent them without their knowledge or explicit permission.  Enough said.
  • Be Over Protective.  Don’t shield them from every pain and failure.  You have to let them experience and learn.  Help guide them, but don’t shelter them.  Be there to pick them up and dust them off.  Then motivate them to get back in the game.
  • Be Overly Judgmental.  Don’t judge their beliefs, their values, or experiences.  They are who they are.  Your role may require you to examine their professional behavior, skills and abilities and then make determinations, but don’t mistake that for free reign to criticize everything about them.  When you do need to comment on potentially sensitive areas, do so with caution and care.
  • Talk Negatively.  Don’t talk negatively about other people.  If they do, listen to them and ask them questions to understand further and/or to guide them out of their negativity. 
  • Be Their Supervisor.   You are NOT their supervisor.  So, don’t act like it. 
  • Set a Bad Example.  Uphold the highest standard of integrity and ethics.  Be a role model. Don’t curse.  Don’t talk badly. Don’t gossip.  Don’t complain. Be someone they look up to; not another person at that water cooler. Set a positive example.


This list is definitely not all-inclusive, but provides a good base for you to build from.  If you are interested in more tips, you can always search “mentoring tips” or “mentoring dos and don’ts” on the internet.

If you have some additional DOs or DON’Ts that you’ve found valuable and would like to share, please leave a comment on the post so that everyone can benefit from your experience.

In the next post, we will wrap up our series on Mentoring Basics with a discussion about how to handle some of the tough conversations.




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