Having a mentor is scary. Being a mentor is also scary. You have an incredible amount of pressure on you to mould someone using their potential & effort. It is a delicate task, & it is one that you want to do well.
The work you are doing is important, & you will feel the weight of it on your back. Do not let that discourage you. As long as you lay a great foundation & keep expectations realistic the relationship will thrive. Read on to learn more about how to be a great creative mentor.
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Establish Expectations Early On.
One of the first things you should do with your mentee is figure out where each of your expectations lies. This helps you do other tasks, & it ensures that the two of you are on the same page.
Point out what you expect from them, like:
- Having questions at every meeting
- Reports on progress with a long-term project
You should also understand that as much as you expect things from your mentee, they will expect things from you. Taking the time to let them know they can express these expectations can help the relationship get off to a great start.
This is also a good time to explain what the two of you are not prepared to do. While the general dynamic between a mentor & a mentee is well known, each relationship looks a bit different. They may expect some guidance from you that you are either unable or unwilling to provide (& it is okay if there are things you will not do).
Perform a Needs Assessment.
On top of expectations there, you should do a needs assessment together. This can also feed into the expectations, so you should try to perform it at the same time.
While a mentee can give you a good idea of what they will need from you during your relationship, they are not exactly an unbiased part when it comes to determining what they need to work on.
If you can, get in contact with others who have evaluated their work (e.g. teachers or supervisors). They can give you a better idea of their current level or performance & what affects their opinion.
This is not to say that you should be searching for dirt on your mentee. Performing a needs assessment can also reveal that certain things they think need work on are not a priority. Creatives doubt their abilities in so many areas because they see an opportunity to be better, but this does not mean they are bad in the first place.
Determine Attainable Goals Together.
The keyword here is together. After you have set down expectations & determined what areas need growth, you & your mentee should rough up some specific goals that encompass both of those details.
If they have any specific projects & deadlines, it is a good idea to incorporate those in your plan. Determine any specific skills they need to master.
You will be working with your mentee through their final college semester & their project involves designing a structure that the local community lacks. This project can serve as the backbone of your interactions as you:
- Set specific deadlines for each part
- Determine where they need to do well on the project
- Provide resources that help move the project along
These goals are actually milestones that sum up the entirety of your relationship, so it is important to organize them into a list of priorities. While all goals are essential to growth, some are more necessary at specific moments in time. Determine how much time & depth can be dedicated to each one.
Create a Contact Schedule & Boundaries.
If there is one thing that creative minds are good at, it is dropping off the face of the earth. You might be just as bad at this as they are, so ensuring that there is a set contact schedule can help keep your relationship warm.
Both of you should know what times are best for contact & which times should be avoided (unless there is an actual emergency, but there usually is not). You want to make sure you have time for yourself & your personal life, & they need to be comfortable working on their own.
Lay down preferred ways of communication as well. Texting is great but it can be difficult to speak in depth.
In general, you should have plans for communicating in three different ways:
- Short-form questions
- In-depth conversations
- Tangible meetings
A lot of creative work is observed best when you have the work in front of you. Pictures can only say so much, & having them present to you through video leaves you at a disadvantage for exploring the entirety of the project. If meeting in person is not feasible for the two of you, see if they can email you a copy of any digital work so you can have it in front of you.
Make sure there is a set schedule for contacting each other too. Do you want them to check in daily with a quick accountability message? Or would you rather they wait a week between interactions? The contact schedule ensures that your mentee has specific deadlines for their tasks & growth, but it also reassures them that they will not be left all alone.
Listen Before Advising.
If you are solving problems before they can be fully explained, it presents a few problems.
- Your mentee will lose confidence in themselves & the relationship.
- You can advise them incorrectly.
- You just sound like a jerk.
They already understand that you are chock full of knowledge; that is why they are learning under you. But if you are treating them like a bucket for your brains, they will never be able to grow on their own.
An authentic relationship between a mentor & their mentee involves active listening for both parties. By taking the time to understand their perspective & the details surrounding a situation you have a better chance at giving them stellar advice.
You should also be asking questions. If you barreling into response the moment they finish their sentence, you probably calculated halfway through. If you can, taking the time to find at least one question for a situation can give you a better perspective.
Make Room for Mistakes.
This one is short & sour. Let your mentee make mistakes. Not so much that they damage their entire career, but enough that they can develop critical skills to avoid making mistakes in the future.
Think about it: if you had never made a mistake, would you be where you are now?
On top of this, what you see as a potential mistake could be a breakthrough for them. It really boils down to giving them the space they need to make decisions. You can help them clean up later, but erasing their decision-making skills will handicap both their confidence & their skills in the future.
Expand Their Network.
Do not keep your mentee a secret. It can be so hard for a creative to breakthrough in their industry, & a lot of success comes from knowing the right people.
This does not mean you open every single door in your network & give them free rein. As they prove themself to you, allow them to show off for others.
Set up meetings, even if they are brief interactions, with people who can help them move forward.
Keep Personal Bias in Check.
This last tip has two tiers: one for dealing with mentees you already know & one for those you do not.
If you are working with someone you have already come into contact with, try to leave any preconceived ideas behind. The dynamic you will have will probably bring out things in them you have never seen, both good & bad, so starting off fresh can diminish the impact of some surprises.
If the two of you are not previously acquainted, do your best to keep the slate blank, & do not judge them too quickly. They may yet become a valuable part of your life.
Wrapping it All Up.
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