If you ask any of the world’s most prolific leaders and entrepreneurs about mentors, they’ll tell you how valuable (even essential) they are when it comes to learning, growing and achieving personal and professional success.
We’ve written before about how to be a mentor, but today we want to explore the other side of the fence. Whether you’ve been assigned a mentor through a workplace program, or you’ve gone out and found one yourself, as a first-time mentee it can be challenging to know where to start, how to structure your interactions and what the expectations are for both parties.
Here are a few tips to consider.
- Find the right person. If you don’t already have a mentor, look for someone you respect, who you think will have good stories, advice, wisdom, skills or experiences to share. It can be someone from within or outside your industry.
- Establish expectations. Many people want an informal mentoring relationship, but this can end up feeling unstructured. Let your mentor know exactly what you want to get out of the relationship: what you want to learn, how they can support you, how often you want to meet. On the flipside, also ask what they hope to get out of it? This should be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
- Set boundaries. Is your mentor open to talking about anything and everything, or do they want conversations to remain career-focused? You might want to set up guidelines; for example, are your discussions confidential? Are they willing to be an advocate for you, or share their network?
- Drive the relationship. As the mentee, the onus is on you to create a schedule – ideally setting up meetings three to six months in advance. A week before each meeting, send your mentor an agenda or some discussion points, so you both know what to expect and can plan accordingly. As a guide, we suggest meeting with your mentor every 6 – 8 weeks, unless you are on a program or in preparation for change, such as a new role. In that instance monthly meetings create great momentum.
- Develop trust. Spend some time thinking about how you’ll create a relationship with your mentor. What do you need to share with them so they understand who you are and how they can best help you? What do you need to know about them? Like all relationships, the more you put in, the more you are likely to receive back.
- Consider the setting. Zoom is an efficient meeting platform, but perhaps also plan to catch up a few months into the relationship over lunch or a coffee.
- Treat your first session like an interview. Prepare some strong questions, like: What’s been your greatest learning lesson? What’s your biggest challenge right now? What’s the thing you’re most proud of? What attributes do you think make a great leader?
- Be curious. Come to sessions prepared, ask lots of questions, take notes and be a good listener. Engage with what your mentor is saying, but know that it’s OK to have different views. The idea isn’t to replicate them, but to learn and then consciously decide which parts of their style or experience you want to take on.
- Connect regularly. We aren’t just talking about the structured meeting time here. Momentum is really important in mentoring relationships. Find out which methods of communication work for both of you between sessions: is it text, email, or the occasional phone call? Perhaps it’s WhatsApp. You’re in the driver’s seat here, but don’t expect to receive many replies, unless you ask for them. Mentors tend to be busy people, but we often hear how much they love to receive updates.
- Be appreciative. Say thank you, offer to pay for lunch, don’t cancel or reschedule meetings, and try to give back when you can. If appropriate, ask if there’s anything you can do for your mentor to support them.
- Apply what you’re learning. Mentors love to see that they’re making a difference, so tell them how you’ve applied the insights and experiences they’ve shared with you. This is often the biggest reasons mentors invest in others.
- Be vulnerable. Mentoring conversations should be a safe space where you can tell the truth, be challenged on your beliefs and share things that you’re excited or worried about.
- Seek feedback. Ask your mentor whether they feel the relationship is working and whether you’re both gaining value from the experience. Ask them if they can see your personal growth evolving.
- Take responsibility. If you grow, change, try new things or build your network as a result of mentoring, congratulations! But if there aren’t any real outcomes, you have to take responsibility for that as well. Try not to get yourself in a position where you blame the mentor. It’s up to you, as a mentee, to drive what you need from the relationship.
There you have it: mentee success 101. Yes, it can feel like a whole new world for the uninitiated, but as the likes of Bill Gates, Oprah – and even Aristotle – will tell you, mentoring truly can be a game changer.
– The Coach Place Global
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