How to Be a Mentor or Mentee
Ah, the mentor/mentee relationship. Everyone wants to help or be helped at work, but once a mentorship begins, neither party knows what to do with the other. What really constitutes a successful mentor and mentee relationship?
The biggest challenge with this relationship is to define it. With clarity for both parties comes the learning opportunity both mentors and mentees have been waiting for. Yes, mentors, you’re about to get a ton out of this too (in addition to good karma!)
Be the Model Mentee
- Your mentor is giving you their time. Respect it. Don’t show up late. Don’t last-minute cancel, or even worse, no-show. Not respecting this relationship is showing you’re not ready for this responsibility. If any of these symptoms occur, perhaps it’s worth revisiting at a better time for your development. Always remember to thank your mentor for their time.
- You are motivating your own career growth. Own this and take ownership of your meetings. It is not up to your mentor to remind you to meet. They want you to show you’re hungry, so it’s on you to set times to meet. If you are committed to this, you’ll be met with the same energy.
- Stay focused on your goals. Define what you hope to gain in a period of time, and stay on task. Keep an agenda for your meetings. This keeps you on track, on time, and on topic. Naturally, your relationship will grow over time and you’ll stray off-topic from time-to-time. But always make sure your meetings have a purpose so your mentor can help you grow.
- Think long-term. A mentor is not an overnight fix for your career growth. For the right pairing, it is possibly a very long-term relationship that will help you throughout your entire career. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about topics you’d like to address.
- Take feedback. You don’t have to agree on everything, but make it clear to your mentor you’d like their feedback. This is the greatest way you’ll grow, by remaining open to another’s wisdom.
So You’re a Mentor. Now What!?
No one imagines they’re ready to be a mentor, but then one day a new colleague approaches you requesting your mentoring. Here are some tips to help you find success and meaning in your mentorship relationship.
- Find your Force. Bach mentored Mozart. Scorsese mentored Oliver Stone. Obi Wan-Kenobi mentored both Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker. You may not feel the force is with you, but the only way to find it within yourself is to help someone else find theirs. Make a list of your positive attributes, your career wins and what got you there, current opportunities for growth within your organization, and your current goals. When your mentor approaches you with questions or issues, then you have some ideas jotted down ahead of time as inspiration.
- Make yourself available in the way you prefer to communicate. Set expectations upfront about how much time you have to meet in person, over the phone, and by email. If you hate talking on the phone, make sure you communicate that email or text is easier for you. Do make an effort to meet in-person from time-to-time as it will greatly enhance the mentorship experience. If your mentee is requesting a meeting, respond in kind. If the timing is difficult for a particular meeting, communicate that and counter with an alternative means of support that works better for you. Disappearing on a mentee can be harmful to their self-esteem and growth long-term.
- Find common ground. Mentorships are most effectively engaged when the parties involved see something of themselves in the other person. See if you can find common interests, goals, background, and quirks. This can overall enrich your connection as people, but also deepen your understanding of the other person’s approach to tackling tasks.
- Listen actively. Engage with your mentee. Ask them pertinent questions about their challenges. Help them differentiate between things within their control and outside of it. Be willing to be honest and thoughtful about your feedback. A mentor can learn a lot about leadership skills by communicating with their mentees.
- It must be a match. However, if you’re not getting anywhere with your mentee, if you feel your expertise doesn’t match their goals, communicate that. Instead of cutting off the relationship, assist them in finding someone who may be a better fit for their style of learning or their trajectory. Neither person will flourish under a forced, strained mentorship.
Relationships to Last a Lifetime
Congratulations on embarking on this exciting and fruitful journey! I’ll leave you with a little inspiration to never stop learning.
A 90-year-old professor at a conference was approached by a 77-year-old former student. Both were leaders in their field. The student approached him and said, “Paul, what should I consider for the next stage of my career?” A good mentor will always listen, ask questions, and figure out the next step for their colleagues. And that relationship could last a lifetime.