Strategies for effective mentoring: Making time to mentor

Allison McWilliams

Allison McWilliams

Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development.  She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU.  This is her first for the fall 2019 semester.  In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.

Effective mentoring uses a set of skills and strategies that require focused attention and practice to implement. Mentoring, a purposeful and personal relationship in which a more experienced person (mentor) provides guidance, feedback, and wisdom to facilitate the growth and development of a less experienced person (mentee), is different from other developmental models one might use due, in part, to its intentional nature. Whether it lasts for six days, six weeks, six months, or six years, a mentor makes an intentional commitment to the growth and development of another person. And that’s no small matter.

Mentoring relationships should not be taken lightly. They are an investment of emotional labor and require a significant amount of time in order to be successful. Indeed, one of the most significant aspects of any successful mentoring “match” is the commitment by the mentor to show up consistently for the other person over an extended period of time. And time, I think we all can agree, is not something that many of us have in excessive supply. On the contrary, it seems that we all are trying to find more time: time to work, time to be with family, time to breathe, time for health and wellbeing. We all have just twenty-four hours in a day. So how, then, do you find the time to mentor someone? Here are some tips:

Schedule it. Build your mentoring meetings into your calendar just as you would any other meeting, and commit to it. If you’re in a formal mentoring relationship, schedule out those meetings for a semester, just like any other standing meeting.

Incorporate mentoring into other strategies. Not everything has to rise to the level of a full-on formal mentoring relationship. Chances are, you are already in a mentoring relationship with someone; you just don’t call it that. No matter your interaction, you can always build in the strategies of asking questions, providing objective feedback, and being a connector to support someone else’s goals.

Be honest. Before you engage in a mentoring relationship, be honest with yourself and the other person about your ability to commit to them. It is far worse to say yes, and to flake out half-way through, than to decline the opportunity in the first place. There are 7.7 billion people on the planet. Chances are, at least one other person can step up and serve as a mentor if your schedule won’t allow for it.