How to be a mentor

A male mentor sat next to a male mentee

Becoming a mentor you can boost your own professional development by learning how to give effective guidance to up-and-coming business talent

Seconds after hoisting the trophy aloft for his European Championship-winning team in July, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo rushed over to give one special person an emotional embrace: his former mentor and ex-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, the man he credits with nurturing his success.

For all the reports about his management style being punctuated by kicking boots at his players or dishing out the ‘hairdryer’ treatment (standing so close and bellowing so loudly, it resembles a blast of hot air), as former players would testify, Ferguson made a fantastic mentor.

Some business leaders may question the value of spending precious hours dispensing advice to younger staff or fledgling entrepreneurs outside the business, but it presents a great opportunity to accrue vital skills that will enhance the management armoury: the ability to identify and recruit new talent, hone leadership – and listening – skills and think about succession planning. Plus, it can be a fantastic boost to confidence and reputation too. So how can leaders mentor more effectively? The IoD’s Information and Advisory Service (IAS) offers this advice…

Accentuate your human skills

Emotional quotient (EQ) might seem like an overused buzz-phrase, but in mentoring, the ability to empathise is a fundamental skill. For example, be prepared to share any experiences of your failures, as well as your successes. And when you’re not dispensing friendly reassurance, encourage decision-making by suggesting practical next-step ideas backed by examples from your personal experiences.

Be a good listener

To ensure your mentoring experience means more than a box-ticking exercise, don’t sit in mentoring sessions describing three decades worth of career triumphs. It sounds obvious, but listening to your mentee can go a very long way. Patience is also key. If your mentee starts acting like a truculent teenager, take time out and listen. Diffusing such a situation by acting as a sounding board full of positive ideas is a good marker of your leadership skills.

Open your contacts books

By sharing some of the contacts you’ve acquired during your career, you can open some invaluable doors for your mentee. Introducing a mentee to influential people also demonstrates that you’re somebody who is prepared to back up the advice they give with action.

Nurture other mentors

Initiating a mentoring scheme within your company is a free way of training employees in leadership skills, plus it can also boost employee satisfaction and retention. First, think about what the programme’s objective will be. Is it to retain more salespeople? Teach a specific skill? Welcome new recruits? Also, consider the duration of the programme (they average between six months and two years) and its format too – ‘would your company benefit from one-to-one pairings or a mentoring boot camp?’. Once you’ve decided, be prepared to embed mentoring into your company culture so all staff understand it is available.

But as a mentor don’t do this…

Avoid acting as a counsellor or dishing out technical advice that your mentee is unlikely to understand. Refrain from being too intrusive, especially into areas that the mentee wishes to keep private. And when they enjoy their first success, don’t claim responsibility – the rewards will come, as Ronaldo’s respect for Ferguson proves.

Could the IAS help you?

The IAS provides IoD members with free business intelligence and advice to help them run their companies more efficiently and successfully.

The Business Information Service is able to investigate questions on behalf of members and supply them with valuable information ranging from market forecasts and industry trends to trading abroad and employee salaries.

The Directors’ Advisory Service provides confidential, independent advice from specialists on issues ranging from raising finance to board and shareholders’ disputes.

Members can receive prompt and confidential business, personal tax and legal advice through using the IoD’s telephone helplines.

Benefits IoD members are entitled to 25 enquiries a year to the Business Information Service, 4 sessions with an IoD adviser, 25 calls to both the legal helpline and the tax helpline

To find out more about the Information and Advisory Service, visit

Email the Information and Advisory Service

020 7451 3100

About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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