Being a good mentor
10th June 2022
Hannah Cox, Senior Digital Designer

Being a good mentor

Having established my career through experience alone and working alongside a fantastic team of designers, developers and production professionals, I have always wanted to be able to give back and help mentor the next generation of designers, supporting them through their career journey.

So, I've done some research into how to be a good mentor and understanding the fundamentals of what it means to be a mentor3.

There are 3 main types of mentor:

  • Hierarchical: A senior member mentoring a more junior member of the team
  • Peer: Peers at the same level mentoring one another
  • Reverse: A junior member mentoring a more senior member

Alongside this, there is 'spot mentoring' which can be used when someone requires specific, tailored support or advice on a specific skill or topic rather than general developmental mentoring.

“A study showed that 75% of millennials feel that mentoring is crucial to their professional success”

There is research to suggest that in terms of hierarchical mentoring, 2-3 levels above the mentees current levels works best, allowing industry experience and knowledge to be a key factor in supporting the mentee. So, for example, a Junior Designer would be best mentored by a Senior Designer.

It's also incredibly important to be able to recognise when you're not the right mentor for someone. There's lots of different reasons why you might not be the right fit. Some examples include:

  • Having too much experience in a particular area that you're unable to recognise shortfalls
  • This can include control on hiring and finance
  • Not being the right personality or a suitable cultural fit. The mentee and mentor must have a good working relationship and feel comfortable with one another
  • A lack of interest in the topics that the mentee wishes to discuss or focus on

Arranging regular catch-ups is an important part of mentoring as a whole; it's time set aside to focus on the mentee entirely. With everyone's busy schedules, meeting-filled diaries and personal errands, it's important that these meetings are structured and planned correctly.

It's also suggested that the mentee should be the one to arrange the meeting and get time allocated into both parties' diaries. They should also be the one to put together an agenda and take responsibility for recording learnings and taking notes. It's important to remember that these mentoring meetings aren't 1:1s and your mentor may not always be your line manager. With this in mind, it's important that the mentee is able to feed back any necessary updates to their line manager.

Allowing the mentee to explore and resolve their own challenges is far more beneficial than providing the answers and being done with the situation. It's important to challenge the mentee and question them, to get them thinking from new perspectives.

Being a mentor can be tricky, where you are aiming to question the right things and empower the mentee to want to do better / more. I think language is so important here, for example instead of using 'why' rephrase things using 'what' or 'how' instead. Rather than "Why did you do it like that?" you could say "How did you come to that decision?" - it's friendlier and far less direct and accusatory!

It's also super important to ask your mentee if you can offer advice - rather than handing out unsolicited advice willy nilly, ask your mentee if they want it first.

Being a good listener is paramount to being a good mentor. There's a little acronym that can help during mentor catch ups: W.A.I.T. (or Why Am I Talking?). Being able to recognise that sometimes you need to sit back and listen. Sometimes the mentee will work through their concerns during the discussion, and this is far more powerful than you repeatedly interrupting and disrupting the conversation.

When it comes to listening, it can be broken down into 3 levels:

  1. Listening to speak
  2. Listening to hear
  3. Listening to understand

Level 3 is where we want to be - listening to understand is being able to observe what's going on around the conversation whilst still being completely involved in the conversation. It's being able to take in everything that the mentee is saying and fully comprehend what is required of you.

Lastly, at the end of your conversation get the mentee to set their own 'homework' or objectives for the next sessions; by doing it themselves they're more accountable and will hopefully feel they have a more structured and specific task to work on.

To end, the mindset of a mentor should encompass the following:

  • Caring
  • Present
  • Curious
  • Patient
  • Objective
  • Acknowledging
  • Leading from behind