During the Summit in Austin, I had the privilege to attend Upstream University as a mentor for the second time (my first time was in Vancouver in 2015). Between this, and some other stints as a mentor in varying capacities over the past few years, I’ve started to develop some opinions on what makes a good mentor. And the main one that has stuck out for me is probably the opposite to that white women screed of Marissa Mayer’s, Lean In. In the case of mentoring, it’s less about leaning in, and more about leaning the hell out of the way.
It’s important to connect with your mentee, and really understand where they’re at. Not just in terms of their grasp of the technology, but also in their general maturity (many of my mentees recently have been quite young, and not necessarily very worldly wise), understanding of community groups, and ability to ask the right questions. In many cases, the questions your mentees ask are not the ones they require answers to, and so it’s important to be able to dig down to the real problem before you deliver an answer that will just further confuse them.
Once you’ve done all this, you’ve outlined their task, and you’ve given them the tools they need to succeed at that task, it’s time to get out of the way. Go and check your email, do whatever it is you do all day. Feel free to check in if you haven’t heard from them in a while, but don’t be hovering over their shoulder. They will never learn if you’re there, ready to catch them before they fall. Just like with children, once they’ve fallen help them up and put a plaster on their skinned knee, but above all make sure you teach them what it is to fail, and what they need to do to fix the problem. If you’re doing all that work for them, then they’re not learning anything. And incidentally, neither will you.