5 ways to be a better mentor

It's in your interest (and your school's interest) for you to become the best mentor you can be. Great mentors not only improve their mentee's performance, but also improve their mentee's engagement and likelihood of sticking around. 

Writing for Harvard Business Review, W. Brad Johnson, a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy, and David Smith, professor of sociology in the Department of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College, explain how to be a better mentor—especially to a mentee who's experiencing some signs of imposter syndrome.

Here are their recommendations for instilling confidence in your mentee:

1: Assure your mentee that self-doubt is normal

We all feel imposter anxiety from time to time, write Johnson and Smith. Even Nobel Prize winners, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and tennis legend Serena Williams have said they experience occasional feelings of self-doubt.

"Remind your mentee that nobody knows everything and that those who don't struggle with imposter concerns are no more intelligent, competent, or capable than the rest of us," advise Johnson and Smith. "In many cases, they are simply more adept at faking it till they make it."

2: Discourage negative self-talk

If you hear your mentee using negative self-talk to describe her performance or capabilities—like "I totally botched that presentation!" or "I have no business being in this job!"—then try to "stick with the data, stay concrete, and work to create dissonance between the evidence and your mentee's self-statements," recommend Johnson and Smith.

For instance, challenge your mentee's thinking by focusing on her strengths. Johnson and Smith suggest saying something like, "Help me here, I'm a bit confused. I've observed that you've accomplished..., and yet you say you don't belong?"

3: Affirm your mentee's strengths

To thwart feelings of self-doubt, affirm your mentee as both a human being and a professional, write Johnson and Smith. "With good humor and grace, the wise mentor seeks opportunities to express belief in a mentee, reminding them that they do belong and are in fact competent," they add.

This is especially important when mentoring women and people of color in a work environment dominated by white males, note Johnson and Smith. In this scenario, you can help counteract stereotype threat and performance anxiety by reminding your mentee that although she might be made to feel like an imposter, her work isn't affected by gender or race.

4: Share your own insecurities

If you have ever felt insecure at work, tell your mentee about it. "Nothing is so uplifting to an imposter than the epiphany of discovering that a respected mentor and role model also has wrestled—and perhaps, continues to wrestle—the dragon of imposter anxiety and managed to endure," write Johnson and Smith.

5: Ensure your mentee takes credit where credit is due

If your mentee lacks confidence, she might be tempted to credit luck, her team, or even her mentor for her professional success, warn Johnson and Smith. But rather than allowing her to downplay her own achievements, "highlight in no uncertain terms how she deserves the lion's share of credit—and explain why," suggest Johnson and Smith (Johnson/Smith, Harvard Business Review, 2/22).

Read more about workplace mentorships

8 habits of highly effective coaches

3 things all mentors should provide

The 9 essential coaching skills the best leaders use

2 questions the most effective coaches ask every employee

Angela Duckworth's two best strategies for building grit in your employees


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