At some point or another, we all need a mentor. The issue is how to get one, where to find one, how to develop a relationship with your mentor effectively. Often, the common misconception lies around how a mentor/mentee relationship begins. What many of us don’t realise is that we have mentors all around us. There may never have been a conversation to solidify the relationship as an official mentorship but there are particular people in our lives that we go to for career advice, money advice, relationship advice and taking a step back and recognising that, helps readjust to the awkwardness of adding a mentor title in there. We may even be mentors ourselves to other people, offering advice along the way without realising that’s the title we’re serving.
In other situations, mentorships are much more structured and began with a controversial mentorship proposition from the mentee as may occur within the workplace or as part of university schemes. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and the relationship and structure are personal to both individuals, how they best learn and how they support others. Whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, these are the things you should keep in mind to get the most out of the relationship.
If you’re a mentor…
Get to know your mentee
Professional mentorship ranks high within a leader’s responsibilities. All great mentors will tap into their own vision, experience and wisdom to help guide the vision of the newer generation within the workforce. Many mentorships will occur within the workplace but particularly within the professional sphere, it may be that your mentee doesn’t directly work with you but is interested in pursuing a career in your industry outside of your company. In the beginning, there may be a few barriers to break down but open communication is incredibly important within a mentoring relationship. Instead of talking about everyday work matters, think about how you can get to know and understand your mentee’s needs on a deeper level. What values are important to them? What do they care about? Do they understand their strengths and weaknesses? How do all of these things tie into their goals?
Relationships between mentors and mentees are characterised by mutual trust, respect, shared values and good communication. A great mentor will see their mentee slowly develop into the kind of person who comes full circle and is trusted to mentor others in the future.
Let them do the talking
While a mentor directly advises a mentee on how they should handle particular problems, a great mentor asks questions, gently pushing their mentee to come up with the solution themselves. Instead of feeding them the answers all the time, ask thought-provoking questions that will allow them to truly grow and develop as individuals. Stick to the principle of guiding your mentee to a solution, constantly pushing them to develop their own capabilities to progress.
Mentoring comes with a lot of responsibility. Not only are you expected to provide guidance and answers during career transitions or tricky periods but you’re also there to provide inspiration and motivation for your mentee to take necessary steps to take their career to the next level.
Undoubtedly, the mentee in the situation is getting a significant amount of value from the relationship and for mentors, the value comes from the satisfaction of helping others succeed and flourish but it also serves as an opportunity for mentors to learn too. A mentor/mentee relationship could force you to look at your own business practices, evaluate or acknowledge new goals and potentially open up an opportunity for collaboration in the future.
Honesty is the best policy
As you get to know your mentee, you’ll start to get to know how they handle criticism or feedback and determine the best way to deliver this information to them. What’s important to ensure you both are getting value from the relationship is to be honest with them when providing feedback. It’s great to be cheered on, everyone loves a pep talk but it’s also important not to sugarcoat everything for them. The key principle behind the mentorship is that they want to progress in their career and to do so they may need a push and the occasional reality check. In part of understanding their needs and goals, mentors shouldn’t be afraid to provide a constructive critique of their mentees and their work.
If you’re a mentee…
When entering a mentoring situation, take time to determine the kind of mentor you’re looking for. You may have someone in particular in mind and if the relationship is already in existence, this step is covered for you. If not, look to your existing network, explore LinkedIn and social media to fully understand your mentor’s experience. You’re looking for someone who has experienced the highs and lows in their career that’s got them to where you hope to be in your own career. Think about the career they’ve built for themselves, the growth they’ve experienced within their business and choose someone who has been where you are now and can relate to your existing experience. Do your homework to really get to know your mentor and ensure you get off on the right foot.
Before you approach someone to be your mentor, you need to establish what you’re looking for and what you want to learn so that you can find the right fit.
Both mentors and mentees must remember to respect one another’s time. As a mentor, your time may be much more valuable within a company but though this may just be a quick call or meeting to you, to your mentee this could be the most important meeting of their day.
From a mentee’s point of view, respect that your mentor is busy and they won’t be able to drop everything to speak to you. When you meet, make sure you’re bringing something to the table and prepare how you would like the meeting to be spent. It’s within both of your interest and within your responsibility as the mentee, to prepare this agenda in advance. Take initiative in the meetings so your mentor can best impart their wisdom and knowledge in a way that will truly benefit you. It’s your role to ask for help when needed, establish clear lines of communication, maintain contact and to learn as much as possible from the mentor.
Be open to feedback but don’t be afraid to disagree
Mentors are there to provide feedback to allow you to grow. Sometimes said feedback doesn’t look so pretty and so long as it’s constructive criticism, that’s ok. You have to remain open to being coached, which involves being challenged and by closing your mind to this, you do yourself and your mentor a disservice in the relationship.
On the flip side, your mentor is only one person and though they hold your utmost respect and you undoubtedly trust their judgement, there will be elements of their advice that you may not agree with. If you do disagree with something, tell them. Open the conversation up to discussion and you’ll get much more value than you would have had you nodded along for the sake of it.
As a mentee, it’s important to remain curious. Ask questions. Be hungry to learn. You’re here because you want to improve and grow. Take advantage of the fact that this relationship is mostly focused on you.