Are you looking to up your mentorship game? In this thoughtful text, leadership coach Scott Miller draws on his expansive experience and insights to lay down a comprehensive pathway to becoming a mentor who truly supports growth. He guides you through 13 diverse “roles” you can embody to support a mentee’s journey while enhancing your own understanding and empathy. Whether you are a seasoned mentor or just stepping into the position, this guide’s invaluable advice can help you avoid common pitfalls and foster deep, rewarding mentoring relationships.
- Mentors need to be flexible in how they approach their mentees.
- Start with “The Revealer” and “The Absorber” roles to establish a trust-filled mentorship foundation.
- Use the “Boundary Setter” role to set relationship parameters with your mentees.
- Use “The Questioner” role to encourage your mentees to take an honest look at themselves.
- Once you’ve gained your mentees’ trust, push them to grow via “The Challenger” role and “The Validator” role.
- Employ “The Navigator” and “The Flagger” roles to guide your mentees away from pitfalls and toward success.
- Use “The Visionary,” “The Activator” and “The Distiller” roles to inspire your mentees to push forward.
- Use “The Connector” and “The Closer” roles to send your mentees into the world.
Mentors need to be flexible in how they approach their mentees.
Mentors play a crucial role in their mentees’ lives. Mentor-mentee relationships can be extremely rewarding for everyone involved but can also prove challenging. Some mentees may be underprepared. Some may be overly demanding. Over the years, you will encounter an array of mentee personality types and work with mentees at different stages in their professional development. The key to successful mentorship, thus, lies in your ability to embody different leadership roles depending on your mentee’s needs.
“Your potential for positively influencing your mentee is incalculable.”
Adjusting your style to match mentee needs can be tricky, but knowing different roles’ purposes can help. There are 13 possible roles that you can move through with your mentee, though you may not embody them all in every relationship. These roles should not feel forced. You may gravitate toward some roles more than others; that’s OK. By understanding the roles you can embody, you will have more tools to help your mentee.
Start with “The Revealer” and “The Absorber” roles to establish a trust-filled mentorship foundation.
As with any relationship, a mentoring relationship starts with getting to know the other person. In the Revealer and the Absorber roles, you are operating similarly to an archaeologist, gently clearing away the figurative dirt and rubble to expose your mentee’s desires, abilities, apprehensions and aspirations. The Revealer tenderly brings to light these hidden facets – the strengths, weaknesses, fears, hopes, circumstances and feelings residing just under the mentee’s exterior. The Absorber takes in the information, listening carefully to fully understand the mentee’s unique qualities.
“In many facets as a mentor, you’re leading an excavation.”
To inhabit the Revealer or Absorber role, you must understand three concepts. First, be sensitive to your mentees’ unique circumstances and perspectives, always being cautious not to draw premature conclusions and to respect the existing dynamics and environment in which they live. Second, be patient and have an open mind, resisting the urge to tell them what you would do in their metaphorical shoes. For instance, you can share experiences that may relate to what your mentees are going through. Third, focus on creating a safe environment for your mentees so that they can be vulnerable. Remain inquisitive and gentle in your approach to build authentic trust.
Use the “Boundary Setter” role to set relationship parameters with your mentees.
The Boundary Setter establishes the limits of the mentoring partnership early on to ensure that the mentorship process is productive and secure. Using the Boundary Setter role helps both individuals understand their roles in the relationship and set clear expectations, thus preventing future issues and ensuring a smooth mentoring relationship.
The following practices can help you stay on track with the boundaries you set:
- Determine how often you will get together with your mentee and decide how long these meetings will last.
- Keep track of and lay out the agenda of each meeting.
- Let your mentee know how hands-on or hands-off your leadership will be.
- Call a “time-out” when you notice an interaction is going off-topic.
- Stay committed to the schedule and boundaries you set.
- Implement consequences for boundary violations, and, if necessary, end the relationship.
Use “The Questioner,” “The Challenger” and “The Validator” roles to allow your mentees to take an honest look at themselves.
Once you’ve laid the foundations of the mentorship, start getting to the root of what your mentee wants. The Questioner’s role in mentoring is akin to that of a defense attorney: Use empathy and understanding to help your mentees rather than making them feel accused or badgered. This role involves asking insightful questions at the right time and in a supportive manner to identify and address issues effectively.
“The Questioner is only as effective as the amount of trust they’ve built with their mentee.”
Avoid asking your mentees to solve your problems. Instead, focus on asking the questions that will get to the root of your mentees’ challenges and dilemmas. Their answers should reflect what’s “right” for them. Start with broader questions such as, “Can you tell me about your life’s journey?” or “How do you define success?” to get a feel for your mentee’s reasoning. At a later stage, dive into more in-depth inquiries such as, “I see you focusing a lot on others; why is that?” These more profound questions will help your mentees understand their patterns and habits. Remember, the Questioner role relies on building trust and a safe environment for your mentees so they feel they can answer honestly and without judgment.
Once you’ve gained your mentees’ trust, push them to grow via “The Challenger” role and “The Validator” role.
The Challenger skillfully encourages mentees to address potential barriers to progress, such as preconceived notions or harmful habits. Employing the Challenger role helps mentees distinguish between emotions and realities, brings to light any biases or incorrect assumptions, and helps avoid reliance on what previously worked for the mentor. This role also assists in nurturing your mentees’ ability to scrutinize and question their preconceived notions before making decisions.
Use discernment to know when to challenge your mentee. For example, if your mentee won’t accept a job offer due to the belief that he or she lacks the necessary qualifications, but you can see that it’s a false belief, then challenge that belief. Ask why your mentee doesn’t feel qualified. However, avoid pushing too far and ignoring legitimate concerns or problems.
Always make sure that you push your mentees toward their goals rather than yours. This is where the Validator role comes in handy. When acting as the Validator, you can affirm your mentees’ reality, making them feel seen, heard and understood. Validating your mentees’ fears, worries and emotions helps build their confidence to step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves.
Employ “The Navigator” and “The Flagger” roles to guide your mentees away from pitfalls and toward success.
Part of being a mentor involves carefully steering your mentees away from making detrimental mistakes and putting them on the path to success. As the Navigator, use your knowledge to help your mentees plan their future steps. Always stay a bit ahead, using your own experiences or what you’ve learned from others to guide the way. Help identify the right chances for your mentees to take, what certain choices might cost them, the best ways to do things and the rules to follow as they move forward.
This role helps connect your mentees’ decisions to their core values but also aids in highlighting effective strategies, protecting against unintentional mistakes, and maintaining focused and steady progress. This is where the mentor can use their “been there, done that” wisdom as a guide.
Navigators should aim to get out in front of their mentees’ challenges. Gabe Dannenbring, a middle school teacher and popular TikTok figure, notes that, when teaching a subject outside of his main area of expertise, he tries to stay “one day ahead” of his students, meaning he needs to know just enough to guide them effectively. This “one day ahead” principle also applies in mentorship relationships: You should try to understand the likely challenges and opportunities that might come up in your mentees’ journeys, even if you haven’t experienced those same things personally. You must be adaptable, knowledgeable and committed to learning continuously to guide your mentees well in various situations and help them progress toward their goals.
“Enacting this level of intervention requires courage.”
When acting in the Flagger role, you are also helping guide your mentees onto the right path, but in different ways than the Navigator. The Flagger works like a warning system, telling their mentees when they’re in danger. The role involves guiding your mentees away from potentially harmful or unsafe decisions and encouraging them to take a more cautious approach, allowing for necessary adjustments based on your advice. This role deepens the trust in your mentoring relationships, helps to prevent mishaps and upholds the boundaries established earlier in the mentoring process.
Unlike the Navigator role, which focuses on the future, the Flagger must remain present and aware of mentees’ current actions. You must stay engaged and prepared to offer guidance, wisdom and courage even when it seems like someone else should be the one to step in and guide your mentee. Flaggers must choose their words carefully and state their intentions to help their mentees before raising their proverbial “red flags.” For instance, asking, “Is this the healthiest choice to make right now?” can help your mentees realize what’s best for them.
Use “The Visionary,” “The Activator” and “The Distiller” roles to inspire your mentees to push forward.
As a mentor, you must be able to inspire your mentees to go after what they want, even if they can’t see a clear path to achieve it. The Visionary role encourages mentees to pursue greater challenges and see a brighter future for themselves while ensuring the goals set are realistic and align with their values and abilities. Foster growth by helping your mentees visualize a future where they are more skilled and successful without straying from what is attainable based on their current skill sets and aspirations.
Being a Visionary mentor means encouraging your mentees to dream big and see themselves achieving more than they may have initially thought possible. Bear in mind that this role is not about trying to become a legendary figure yourself but about inspiring your mentees in realistic and helpful ways. Help your mentees aim for higher goals within their current paths rather than constantly seeking new ones. Push them to grow in ways that are both nurturing and empowering. For example, if your mentee wants to get better at public speaking, don’t put them in front of a 2000-person audience on their first try. You might think they can do it, but the shock could set them back.
“Help your mentee see the congruency between how they think, what they say, how they behave, and the results that follow.”
The Activator and Distiller know precisely when to give their mentee a boost of encouragement to help them reach higher and go farther. They use the right words at the right time to fuel their mentees’ drive and help them set bolder goals. The critical difference is that the Distiller helps the mentee decide what to do through mutual brainstorming, while the Activator tells the mentee which steps to take next.
Learn to identify the opportune moments to encourage your mentee, being careful not to fuel every idea indiscriminately as it can lead to a loss of focus. Timing is everything; sometimes, your mentee only needs help choosing, and other times, you must step in and show the way. Mentors should be extra attentive when dealing with mentees who are external processors: individuals who vocalize all their thoughts to understand them better. Rather than encouraging every idea your external processor voices, encourage the ones that seem to excite and energize your mentee the most.
Use “The Connector” and “The Closer” roles to send your mentees into the world.
When you feel that you have reached the end of your mentorship relationship and it’s time to move on, there are two roles you can use to help your mentee with their next steps. First, the Connector role utilizes your connections to fast-track your mentee’s access to new positions or opportunities, fostering a mutually beneficial situation for the mentee and potential new mentors, employers or clients. It’s essential for mentees to recognize the privileged position they are in, honoring and valuing your network while making the most of the opportunities presented.
Only use the Connector role if you feel your mentees are ready for the opportunities you can provide and their skills are appropriate for them. Remember that you have spent your whole career building a network based on your reputation. Don’t tarnish that reputation by advocating for an unprepared or ungrateful mentee. As a Connector, you can give your mentees a solid footing on their paths to success.
“The Closer is the last role a mentor plays…”
Finally, once your mentees have learned everything you can teach them, take on the Closer role. This is a celebratory position where you can congratulate your mentees for all their progress under your care. Offer your mentees time to reflect on their accomplishments, celebrate their wins and establish new commitments moving forward. In the end, your mentees should walk away feeling ready to conquer their next challenges all on their own.
About the Author
Scott Jeffrey Miller is a multi-bestselling author, radio and podcast host, coach, columnist and global keynote speaker. He currently works as FranklinCovey’s senior advisor on thought leadership.
The book is a practical and comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to be a great mentor and make a positive impact on the lives and careers of others. The author, Scott Jeffrey Miller, is a leadership expert, speaker, and podcaster who has mentored hundreds of people in various fields and roles. He argues that mentorship is not a one-size-fits-all activity, but rather a dynamic and flexible process that requires different skills and approaches depending on the situation and the mentee. He introduces a framework of 13 roles that mentors can play to help their mentees achieve their goals and grow as individuals. The 13 roles are:
- The Listener: The mentor listens actively and empathetically to the mentee’s needs, challenges, and aspirations.
- The Questioner: The mentor asks powerful and open-ended questions that stimulate the mentee’s thinking and learning.
- The Challenger: The mentor challenges the mentee’s assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors that may be limiting their potential or performance.
- The Validator: The mentor validates the mentee’s strengths, achievements, and contributions, and boosts their confidence and self-esteem.
- The Advisor: The mentor provides advice, guidance, and feedback based on their own experience, knowledge, and expertise.
- The Connector: The mentor connects the mentee with other people, resources, or opportunities that can help them advance their career or personal development.
- The Sponsor: The mentor advocates for the mentee’s interests, visibility, and recognition within the organization or industry.
- The Role Model: The mentor exemplifies the values, skills, and behaviors that the mentee wants to emulate or learn from.
- The Coach: The mentor helps the mentee set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals, and supports them in creating and executing action plans.
- The Teacher: The mentor teaches the mentee new concepts, skills, or techniques that are relevant to their field or role.
- The Facilitator: The mentor facilitates the mentee’s learning process by providing structure, direction, feedback, and support.
- The Collaborator: The mentor collaborates with the mentee on projects, tasks, or initiatives that allow them to learn from each other and create value together.
- The Friend: The mentor builds a trusting, respectful, and supportive relationship with the mentee based on mutual interests, values, and goals.
The book explains how to apply these roles in different stages of the mentorship journey, from initiating the relationship to ending it gracefully. It also provides practical tips and tools for mentors to improve their skills, mindset, and performance. It also addresses some of the common challenges and pitfalls of mentorship, such as managing expectations, boundaries, conflicts, feedback, diversity, and ethics.
The book is an insightful and useful read for anyone who wants to improve their mentorship skills and make a difference in others’ lives. It is well-written, clear, and engaging, with plenty of stories and examples from the author’s own experience and from other successful mentors. The author does a great job of presenting his framework of 13 roles in a simple and understandable way without oversimplifying or exaggerating them. He also provides useful charts and tables to illustrate the key points and concepts. He also provides a self-assessment tool for mentors to identify their strengths and areas for improvement in each role. He also provides a mentoring plan template for mentors to plan their actions and track their progress with their mentees.
The book is suitable for both beginners and experienced mentors who want to enhance their skills and knowledge in the field of mentorship. It is also relevant for anyone who wants to learn more about how to be an effective leader, communicator, influencer, or learner. The book is inspiring and empowering as it shows how mentorship can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience that benefits both the mentor and the mentee. The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to master the art of great mentorship.
Overall, I think the book is a valuable addition to the literature on mentoring and personal development. It is suitable for anyone who wants to learn more about mentoring or improve their skills and results in it.