I’ve been both a mentor and a mentee over the course of my career as a designer and leader in User Experience/Interaction Design. This post shares some insights gleaned through the years for starting and maintaining good mentoring relationships — and creating value for both parties involved.
In this part of the two-part series, we’ll cover the steps of being a great mentor, exploring:
- Becoming a mentor: your next step to design learning
- The benefits of mentoring
- Qualities, approaches and intentions to strive for
- How to start mentoring & tips for finding mentees
- How to work with mentees
- Handling imposter syndrome and times when you ‘don’t know’
In the first part of the series, we covered why and how to become a great mentee:
- The crucial mindset & qualities of a mentee
- Essential qualities of a good mentor (and why the best design mentor for you may not be a designer at all!)
- How to find and vet mentors, and set clear goals for the relationship
- Working — and communicating — effectively with your mentor
- Measuring mentorship success
Finding and supporting a designer mentee is a key step in continuing to grow as a great designer. But how do you do this? How do you become a great mentor who can support encourage and help mentees accelerate to the next level?
Becoming a mentor as your next step to design learning
“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
― Phil Collins
It was scary to contemplate being a mentor when I first considered it. Imposter syndrome whispered ‘how can you mentor others when you only have X amount of experience?”
The truth is imposter syndrome often has no bearing in reality-some of the highest-achieving, most successful people in the world suffer from it. We all learn in different ways. When we have to show and explain to someone else how to do something, it helps to reinforce our own learning. You don’t need to know everything to be a mentor, you simply need to know a bit more than the person you mentor. And, more importantly, you need to be able to present things in a clear and understandable way.
How to become a great mentor
If your first motivation for mentoring is thinking about what you can get out of it, then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons and will be a less effective mentor as a result. In my experience the best reason to mentor is to encourage, support, and give back to the community.
I was fortunate in that a very kind and generous person took the time to mentor me when I first explored my field. He met with me, answered my questions, suggested ways to develop my skills further, even hired me on for a short contract which gave me the opportunity to try out the field. He left me with an indelible desire to give back by supporting others who also want to learn UX design.
By mentoring you’ll find that you’ll gain significant benefits including re-learning or mastering your skill by sharing and explaining your craft to others. You’ll develop and expand your leadership skills, hone your communication skills and sharpen your interpersonal skills.
Qualities of Great Mentors
The qualities I’ve found most important to becoming a great mentor include:
- Self-awareness: being clear on my strengths and weaknesses, how I developed the former and have or am addressing the latter. This also includes reflection, thinking about how I’m teaching, mentoring and how I’m putting forth the information that I’ve learned.
- Honesty: This can sometimes be difficult. Your mentee doesn’t know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, so it’s up to you to be honest about them and acknowledge where you can help mentor, when you need support, or where to refer mentees should a question or situation come up that you can’t provide feedback on.
- Confidence: Just as being confident is an important characteristic in being a great mentee, so is confidence in being a great mentor. This starts with sharing your strengths, in believing you have something to offer, and in continually seeking out your own mentors to further your development.
- Humility: Being humble in recognizing that your mentees give you a great experience and gift, by allowing you to share a craft you love with others. Remember that in teaching you learn, advance your own skill and have the opportunity to gain fulfillment as you see your mentee grow, learn and succeed.
Start Mentoring: Tips for Finding and Working with Mentees
Mentoring opportunities and candidates come from a variety of contexts. Here are a number of resources that, from my experience, can help you find mentees and become a great mentor.
- Participate in design industry peer groups: Establish yourself in both peer and mentorship relationships. Great resources include UX/IxD practice groups, UX book clubs, UX meetups, UX Conferences and events, and UX/IxD associations.
- Offer to mentor interested people in your network: I’ve had people become mentees after they initially reached out with just a preliminary question through my professional network. Similarly, I’ve had people at work become mentees after approaching me for advice on how to learn more about UX/IxD. If the fit seemed right, I’ve offered to mentor them on a short or longer-term basis.
- Provide one-off or occasional mentorship: Presenting and facilitating a UX/IxD workshop through an industry association or conference, organizing and participating in knowledge-sharing through workplace lunch and learn sessions, participating in classroom programs teaching design skills to grade school students (I did this through one of the Design-Exchange’s Education Programs, designers in the Classroom’ program in Toronto, look for similar programs in your area).
- Reach out to universities and colleges: Universities and colleges that offer design programs can be great places to connect with mentoring opportunities. Offer to be a mentor to interested students seeking outside class learning, offer to be on advisory board or come in and speak from the perspective of someone working in the field.
Work Effectively with Mentees
Approach the mentoring process as a design challenge (bonus: your approach will already begin to teach your mentees ways to apply design-thinking)
Inception stage Elicit from your prospective mentee:1) goals & problems
2) what they hope to gain from mentorship
3) scope & constraints: what’s in/what’s out and when; what they are looking for vs not looking for, what you are able to offer and not
4) frequency of mentorship
5) the method and process that works best for them, including in-between communication needs
6)success measurements: How will they know they are getting want/need from the relationship?
Concepting: Once you have asked lots of questions, and listened even more, put out some ideas around how, when and where you might approach working together and get them to react to and collaborate on defining that
Evaluate: whether this person and what they are looking for seems like a good fit for a fulfilling mentee/mentor relationship: See qualities of a good mentee in preceding section
Iteratively Build/Test/Refine/Release: Build your mentor/mentee relationship by meeting regularly, building your mentor/mentee practice and mutual learning through every meeting, test the health of your mentorship relationship by having regular check-ins to ‘test’ that the process is still working and measure how you are doing in relation to your goals refine and adjust as needed.
Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
Just as potential mentees can feel insecure asking someone to mentor them, so can prospective mentors question whether they are good enough, know enough, are “expert” enough to mentor someone else. This self-doubt is especially likely to rear its head when you are first considering mentorship or when a mentee comes to you with a problem or request which is outside your area of expertise or experience.
I spoke earlier about my own moments of dealing with imposter syndrome and how common this feeling can be, particularly among high-achieving persons (Tina Fey and Sheryl Sandberg to name just a few). So take comfort in knowing if you are feeling it, chances are you are already high-achieving and therefore worthy of being a mentor. And, if you need further encouragement, remember the words of Jason Early: to be a good mentor “You don’t have to have all the answers, you just have to be willing to share what you know.”
Final Thoughts On Mentorship and Menteeship
I hope these learnings have helped make the path to mentorship clearer for you, saved you some of the trial and error that I experienced, and have equipped you to overcome self doubt and create value as both a mentee and mentor (not a mentee or mentor).
Remember you learn how to be a good mentee by gaining empathy for mentors — which stems from mentoring others. And, you learn how to be a good mentor by gaining empathy for mentees — which stems from being a mentee. I hope you seek and experience both.
Good luck, and remember to enjoy the process!