The Skill Set: 7 Ways to Be an Amazing, Inspiring Mentor

Make it a win-win for all.

Lauren Curiotto started her nonprofit, Finding the Fabulous, when she was just 17 years old. Heading into her first year at NYU, it was her mission to create an organization that would inspire the next generation of female role models to lead with confidence, compassion and creativity. The idea stemmed from hearing her friend’s 8-year-old sister say she needed to go on a diet to make her thighs thinner, as bathing suit season was soon approaching. That, coupled with Lauren's own personal fear of failure and counterbalanced by the many good role models in her life, was a recipe for change. “I started by creating a week-long empowerment summer camp for 10 girls that I knew or sisters of people I knew. That’s really as far as the vision went at the time,” she says. “At the end of the week, parents said, ‘This is amazing. What are you doing next?” Now with six programs—including The Collaboration, which connects high school girls to professional women in their fields of interest for externships, a speaking series, teen conferences and events like slumber parties—and having connected with more than 800 girls who are now part of the “sisterhood,” as she likes to call it, she’s made good on her promise to promote self-esteem, leadership and professional development in girls from kindergarten all the way to college. “It was really important to me to build an organization that could stay and grow with a girl throughout her adolescence,” Lauren says. “We see the full arc of what these girls are going through, what they are thinking and how they are
reacting to it.” According to Lauren, at ages 5 to 8, girls have a natural confidence about themselves. They are not worried about how people are perceiving them, it’s very easy for them to make friends and they are open to trying new things. Beginning at age 9, there’s a bit of a shift, where girls are not quite as comfortable in their own skin. Around age 12, they really start to doubt who they can be and assume labels that other people are giving them. “There needs to be an opposing, equally strong force to combat a girl’s unrelenting inner critic,” says Lauren. To make your own impact on the next generation, see Lauren's essential tips for becoming a meaningful mentor. The Skill Set: 7 Ways to Be an Amazing, Inspiring Mentor

1. Demonstrate compassion and honesty

You just have to care. That’s step one—care enough to share advice and insight, and be willing to be honest. Obviously you want to share positive stories or wins with your mentee, but sometimes it’s really helpful to hear that you made a mistake, there was that one point that you didn’t know what direction to go in or you doubted yourself. Be willing to be vulnerable and transparent so your mentee can grow from it.

2. Extract confidence

I tell the girls to spend less time looking in the mirror. We need to untangle what we feel is important and what we’re being told is important from other sources and assign those values. I also suggest keeping a win folder. Whether it’s on the computer or it’s a physical folder, I tell them to tuck or file away anything they feel is a “win” throughout the year. We tend to easily forget things that went well or that we accomplished. When something new comes up and they feel like there’s no way they can take it on, they can take a little glance at that folder and look at all the things that made them feel that way before but they accomplished them anyway.

3. Show them they can explore careers

Uncertainty about the future can create a really special, unique opportunity to explore different paths, either those you’re afraid of or those you just don’t know exist. I tell my girls to talk to as many people as they can. Ask someone you respect if you can have 20 minutes of their time to talk about their career. It's a request that's easy to say yes to. There are also so many different internships and volunteer opportunities. There are things you can do for a couple of hours. There are things you can do for a day or a week and there are also long-term commitments. There are plenty of great, no-strings-attached ways of learning different trades and businesses.

4. Be time-efficient

As a mentor, you may not always have time to go out for coffee or plan another meeting. I like to utilize email and Skype and set 20 minutes a week where I can respond to my mentees. If writing comes naturally to you, you can direct people to a blog or article that answers the basic questions. I also get groups of girls together at once, rather than scheduling ten different coffee dates or calls. They still get that personal face-to-face time but it doesn’t have to swallow my whole calendar.

5. Don't feel compelled to share everything

In the beginning, it’s important to set boundaries. Sometimes, things are going to come up when you don’t expect them or you can’t prevent them. You can be honest and say, “That’s not something I usually talk about or cover with my mentees.”

6. Know your place

Most times as a mentor, we’re not therapists or psychologists, so we shouldn’t be giving advice on topics we’re not qualified on. Stick with your strengths. Talk about things that you know from your experience and that you have encountered on your own. There’s nothing wrong with referring your mentee to somebody else who might be able to better answer a question or touch on a topic that's simply not in your wheelhouse.

7. Ask the right questions

I like to go from really big to really small. I start with, “What’s the biggest dream that you have?” And I ask, “What have you done in the last week or the last month that you think is moving the needle?” The answer helps you see if their priorities are in line and what kind of mindset they are bringing towards accomplishing their goals. Then, I also encourage my mentees to ask me questions to understand where I started, where I am now and what my challenges are, too.


Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo