In work, in school, at the gym and just about everywhere in life, this familiar saying holds true: “You only get out what you put in.” The same goes for mentoring relationships. If you expect to gain knowledge and opportunities from a mentor or as a mentor, you have to put in the work required to develop a productive, valuable relationship.
What Does It Mean for Mentees?
It means understanding your mentorship needs and goals and taking steps like these to ensure you get the most from the opportunity:
- Self Evaluation: Before identifying a mentor, carry out a bit of self evaluation to define why you want a mentor. It is important to define goals and expected outcomes at the outset of any endeavor, including a mentoring program. With these mentorship goals in hand, you can return to them from time to time to analyze progress, adjust and refocus.
- Due Diligence: Network and talk with a number of potential mentors to understand if a relationship will work. This may take time but it will help you decide which aspects of your growth you want to focus on and if the match is suitable.
- Communicate: Define and agree to communication methods (in person versus phone calls/emails, etc.) and frequency of contact with your mentor from the beginning. Be realistic and honest in terms of your ability to keep these commitments.
- Manage Expectations: Working with a mentor requires a time commitment. Sometimes flexibility is needed on both sides to manage other priorities in life – family, travel, work commitments, etc. It can be helpful to you and your mentor to set a timeframe for the “program.” Do you want it to be for 6 months, one year? Remember to look back to your goals and expected mentorship outcomes to ensure they can be met within the timeframe you define.
- Get to Know Your Mentor: Remember that you and your mentor may come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Styles may be different. Don’t panic if the relationship is not easy from the very start. It takes time to get to know someone so be patient and make sure you are communicating and meeting often enough to foster a true connection.
What Does It Mean for Mentors?
Mentors can get as much out of mentoring as mentees. As a mentor, you can learn new skills, gain access to new ideas and explore emerging technologies. You will be able to share knowledge and experiences with an engaged listener as you hone your skills coaching and guiding talent. With those benefits in mind, take these steps to ensure you are doing all you can to foster a successful mentor-mentee relationship.
- Prepare: Be clear about your role by defining what you want share, teach and explore over the course of the relationship. Let your mentee know the skills you can help develop (facilitation, idea generation, problem solving, networking, etc.) and ensure that expectations for knowledge sharing are set up front.
- Listen Actively, Ask Good Questions: Listen with attentiveness and provide an accepting and supportive atmosphere for your mentee. Ask questions that will help your mentee define what is important to her in order to guide career growth and identify career opportunities.
- Set the Structure: A good mentor-mentee relationship requires structure and you get to define it—how often you meet, how you meet, where you meet, etc. To give the relationship the very best start, create a plan for collaborating (schedule, milestones, expected outcomes) that you can effectively work within. That said, be flexible enough to identify when the structure isn’t working and adjust.
- Be Committed: Do the things you say you will do in a timely manner. Be invested in the relationship and respectful of the mentee’s time and work.
- Invite Feedback: It is important to create an open and trust-based relationship in which the mentee feels comfortable in providing feedback and suggesting changes. Welcome your mentees insights and be open to improvements.
A good mentoring relationship is a two-way street, offering knowledge and opportunities to both participants. The key is participation. If both people are putting in effort, insight and work, both will profit professionally from that hard work and commitment.