Whether you are the mentor or the mentee, the mentoring relationship can push your career to new heights.
The benefits of mentoring are myriad. For individuals, studies show that good mentoring can lead to greater career success, including promotions, raises, and increased opportunities. Organizations that embrace mentoring are rewarded with higher levels of employee engagement, retention, and knowledge sharing. In fact, mentoring has proved so beneficial that 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their employees.
While these statistics are encouraging, it’s important to remember that mentoring is not a magic wand that automatically creates success. The truth is that effective mentoring takes effort, and creating successful mentoring relationships requires specific skills, sensibilities, and structure from both the mentor and the mentee. Success happens when both parties take responsibility for making it work. Success happens when best practices are in place for the three key ingredients:
1. The Mentor
2. The Mentee
3. The Relationship
A good mentor needs to be more than just a successful individual. A good mentor must have the disposition and desire to develop other people. It requires a willingness to reflect on and share one’s own experiences, including one’s failures. Great mentors must be able to both “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.”
Qualities to look for in a mentor:
A desire to develop and help others. A good mentor is sincerely interested in helping someone else without any “official” reward. Good mentors do it because they genuinely want to see someone else succeed.
The ability and availability to commit real time and energy to the mentoring relationship. Good intentions aren’t enough—mentoring takes time!
Current and relevant industry or organizational knowledge, expertise, and/or skills. The best mentors have deep knowledge in an area that the mentee wishes to develop.
A willingness to share failures and personal experiences. Mentors need to share both their “how I did it right” and their “how I did it wrong” stories. Both experiences provide valuable opportunities for learning.
A growth mindset and learning attitude. The best teachers have always been and always will be those who remain curious learners themselves. Would you rather be advised by someone whose mind is shut because he knows it all or by someone whose mind is open because she is always looking to deepen her knowledge?
Skill in developing others. This includes the very real skills of: active listening, asking powerful, open-ended questions, self-reflection, providing feedback and being able to share stories that include personal anecdotes, case examples, and honest insight.
What Makes A Good Mentee?
Just as there are specific characteristics of a successful mentor, there are attributes and sensibilities that make for a good mentee. This is important, because mentees must remember that mentors are doing this from the goodness of their heart, so being a good mentee is the best way to ensure the relationship enjoys a healthy purposeful existence.
Mentees need to be:
Committed to expanding their capabilities and focused on achieving professional results.
Clear about their career goals, needs, and wants. Mentoring isn’t therapy where one just rambles aimlessly. mentees are responsible for creating the mentoring agenda, so they must be clear about what they hope to get from mentoring.
Willing to ask for help, show vulnerability, and explore different paths and perspectives. Mentees must be open and receptive to learning and trying new ideas. No mentor wants to advise someone who isn’t open to learning!
Able to seek and accept feedback—even the “constructive” kind—and act upon it.
Be personally responsible and accountable.
Mentors want to see movement and growth. If you say you are going to do something, then do it! Sitting on the sidelines in a mentoring relationship is not going to work.
Ready, willing, and able to meet on a regular basis. Relationships take time to develop, so mentees must also be committed to upholding their end of the bargain.
The Mentoring Relationship
A mentoring relationship must be managed and nurtured. It is a joint venture that requires both parties to actively attend to its care and feeding. The chances of creating and sustaining a successful mentoring relationship are enhanced by adopting a few simple best practices:
Design The Alliance. Take the time discuss the structure of the relationship. Both parties need to have a shared understanding of the relationship process. This means discussing and articulating things like:
Contact and response times: Who contacts whom? How? What are acceptable response times?
Meetings: Where, when, and how often? Are you meeting in person? On the phone? Virtually?
Confidentiality: What’s shareable and what isn’t?
Focus: What are the parameters of the mentoring? What’s in and out of bounds?
Feedback: What are the expectations around giving and receiving feedback?
Goals and accountability: What would each party want from this experience? How does the mentee want the mentor to hold her accountable? How does the mentor want the mentee to hold her accountable?
Get To Know Each Other. A mentoring relationship is like any other relationship—it takes time to develop. And like other relationships, it will grow faster and stronger if both parties take the time to get to know each other as people. Resist the temptation to dive head first into career problem solving and advising. Build trust by learning about each other!
Set The Agenda. Both parties need to be clear about the purpose and focus of the mentoring. Additionally, the mentor and mentee should articulate what they hope to get out of the experience.
Reflect And Evaluate. Every few meetings, one (or both) of the parties should ask: “How is this going for you? What’s been helpful? What hasn’t? What could I do differently to make this a more rewarding experience?” As awkward as it may feel, initiating evaluative conversations will keep the relationship working for both of you.
Closeout. If you are part of a formal mentoring relationship or have negotiated a specific number of mentoring meetings, take the time to close out. This is when each party should reflect and appreciate. What was most rewarding? What did you find the most valuable? What are you most grateful for? Mentees and mentors should clearly articulate their appreciation for the other. Be specific about what you learned and gained from the experience.
Mentoring is a great opportunity to deliver a rewarding and potentially life-changing experience for both the mentor and the mentee. It is one of the most important things a person can do to enhance their career and professional life.
It takes time and commitment, but it is well worth the effort. Whether you are the mentor or the mentee, it’s a win-win for your career.