As with any educational process, I think that transparency is absolutely critical to mentorship working out well for all of those involved. Things should start with an open, frank conversation.
That conversation should, in my view, have two important topics to cover. First are the goals and needs of the mentee: after all, that is the purpose of mentorships of all kinds inf the first place. Second, the commitment and time demands of the mentor should also be discussed. If those two cannot be worked out, whether formally or informally, than the whole mentorship is beginning on shaky ground.
I would also advise having such conversations at regular intervals. As the needs and progress of the mentee, and the life of the mentor, change, so will their relationship. Many of my early mentors have retired or moved on to other positions, and, thus, I have had a lot less conversations with them. Instead of weekly meetings at a shared office, perhaps, we can simply get coffee and share advice every few months to a year. Relationships of all kinds change and evolve over time, and this is true of mentorships as well.
Look for Flaws
There is, to the best of my knowledge, no human being on this planet who has never made a mistake either personally or professionally. With that said, many people who get into mentoring as a business model often do their best to scrub any of their flaws and mistakes from public view.
To me, this is something that is deeply worrying. Failure and mistakes are, after all, excellent teachers. As a mentor, you should not and certainly do not have to wear your worst mistakes and biggest failures as a mark of shame. Instead, what tells me someone is a good mentor is a willingness to learn from those mistakes, if even perhaps it is learning the hard way, and then sharing those lessons learned with your mentees.
Your mentees will, too, make mistakes. They’ll be a lot less likely to hide them from their mentors if those mentors admit to mistakes, too. All any of us are, are people who are trying to learn and help one another. Admitting that we do that from a place of fallibility is both honest, and a great place to start taking stock of things upon which we can improve.
Have an Inquisitive Mind
A decent mentor, by design, is usually an expert at something that the mentee wants to learn how to do well. That’s all well and good, but, either as a mentor or a mentee, be cautious for mistaking expertise for perfection.
As a teacher, I learn more about being a human being, and much about being an academic, from my students than, I think, they learn from me as a lecturer and as a mentor. Many of my personal mentors have said much the same over the years, and I think there is some wisdom in this. In learning how to mentor others, the mentor is taking on a new craft and art in addition to the subject at which they’re already an expert.
If we commit, as mentors, to learning how to mentor well, we will have to apply the same level of inquiry and dedication to that as we did learning the thing people want to be mentored in. This is not, in my view, some onerous obligation. It is, instead, a great opportunity to continue to learn new things in a way that will enrich not only my life, but the lives of the folks that I mentor as well.
Mentorship is a multi-faceted and evolving thing, for both mentor and mentee alike. These things are traits that I have appreciated in my better mentors over the years, and ones that I hope to inhabit for my students and those who come to me for guidance.
If you find yourself in a position of either looking for a mentor, or being asked to mentor someone, I hope that you can keep these in mind to try to get the best outcome out of mentoring one another that we possibly can.