We talk a lot about the purpose of mentorship and what can be gained from a workplace mentoring program. This helps to guide people through the unknown whilst embarking on both a new working relationship with somebody and trying to figure out a career path and how to get there.
When the tools are available to find or start a mentoring program that works and a match with somebody who can help you to steer your own career in the right direction, less focus may go into the actual content of a mentor/mentee relationship and how to take the first steps to discussing what you want to gain out of it.
From the first meeting between a mentor and mentee to the last phone call wrapping things up, the relationship should be built on a strong foundation and mutual respect.
Even though strengths, weaknesses and opportunities may change over time, the focus on self improvement should always remain constant.
How to Develop an Effective Mentoring Relationship – The Mentor
From the perspective of a mentor, it is important to be careful who you take on as a mentee in the sense of work overload and what they want to get from their time with you. On a personal level common goals and interests are very helpful, especially if your working styles differ and you don’t have the same view points on career progression. It is not within a mentor’s power or best interests to change a mentee as a person.
Attempting to do this can actually be less beneficial as diverse opinions and approaches can strengthen an organisation. Both parties definitely do not need to always agree.As the job of a mentor is to guide and offer support, another important factor in starting a mentor/mentee relationship is to not be overbearing or to thrust your own projects and personal ideas on to your mentee., Rather allow them to think for themselves and create a career based on their own ideals and beliefs.
This is arguably the best guidance a mentor could give. However, in an extreme case if it is clear from the outset that your practices and approach are too different to the mentees, and if it is not something that can be bridged over time, it may be best to have an honest and professional conversation that ends the mentorship with clear reasons as to why and suggestions going forward.
There is a certain etiquette when it comes to dealing with these conversations, but both parties will benefit from cutting ties before any frustration can build and time is wasted. Suggestions can even be made about who may be a better mentor for them, how to find a match that suits their ideas and approach (possibly re-running or using mentor matching software if that was not done the first time). Even the best mentor/mentee relationships face roadblocks and overcoming them is part of the learning process but from time to time its better to repair.
How to Develop an Effective Mentoring Relationship – The Mentee
It can be a daunting prospect to be at a point in your career when you want to take it a step further and need to look for someone to mentor you through that growth period. How do you begin to look for a mentor? How do you reach out to them? What kind of content do you want to cover?
Mentorship programs exist to make this part of the task as easy as possible. This allows you to concentrate on going forward and work toward your goals with confidence. By providing information about yourself, your work sector and unique requirements, the options can be confined neatly to ensure you have the pairing that fits in with your ideals.
On both accounts the selective nature of the pairing needs to be positive and sometimes the connection may just not be there, in which case, it should be handled smoothly and professionally. After all, a mentor should be someone you model your career path after. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the field you work in. Rather, by observing the way they have worked to their position and what their values are when it comes down to work ethic and progression, the connection can be stronger than simply observing a mentor who does exactly what you want to do. Young entrepreneurs will succeed on bright ideas and those ideas can only be modelled upon, not copied exactly, an important factor when considering a potential mentor.
Developing the relationship involves thinking about your expectations. Most mentees need help to get from A to B with clear steps on how to propel themselves forward to this point. Some people looking for a mentor may be stuck at Point A but have no clear path on what comes after. A mentor’s job is to guide and suggest ideas based on their own experiences in getting from A to B. They will appreciate you coming in to the program with your B goal ready to discuss.
Important Questions to Drive the Mentorship Forward
- What are your goals? If you come prepared into the mentorship, it will help the mentor understand fully what they can do to help you. If you are preparing for the next step in your career, if you are struggling with the networking aspect of your progression, or if you have the groundwork and the ideas but need to observe a leader who has had the experience you want, your mentor should be able to lead you in the right direction with a clear understanding of what you aim to get out of it. A mutual balance of input is essential for your mentor to see you are willing to put in the work and not rely solely on them to hold your hand through the entire process.
- Do you need mentoring in different aspects of your goal? It is not uncommon for people to enter multiple mentorships, and in fact this can be quite beneficial. Mentoring does not have to follow a formal path every time. Mentors exist in our personal lives, families, education institutions and the workplace. A lot of people can remember a specific teacher, tutor or lecturer that they considered a mentor away from their actual classes and lessons. Building a connection with them they may have found this person guided them through school or college helping build their confidence in social adaptation or perhaps pushing them to join additional curricular activities in a subject where they saw huge potential in the student. This kind of mentorship in the adult world can still exist in an informal capacity with someone in your life who sees your potential and is happy to guide you through their experiences. So, don’t forget the while entering a formal mentoring program, there is still room for people like that in your life.
- What are your weaknesses? A lot of mentorships begin because you want to improve an aspect of your existing knowledge and not necessarily start something from scratch. But it can work the opposite way in that you may be great at managing workloads, organization and understanding financial reports but you may not be so strong at the people aspect of your job. Whether itis developing future leaders or inspiring ideas, your future career goals may mean you need to have all of the above under your belt to be successful. This is the kind of thing that should be prioritized when searching for a new mentor and then should be discussed when beginning the program so that you are both on the same page and can move forward smoothly with a set path toward your goal.
- What are your strengths? Just as it is important to lay any weaknesses and room for development on the table, it does not mean to put your strengths to one side. Everyone has room for improvement in their career and finding a mentor that can help build on these strengths may be just what you need to help take you to the top. In the sports world, athletes have coaches that focus on strengths, create a regimen of training and exercise and a diet plan that will help them work toward being the best at their particular field of sport. This can be executed well within a mentorship within the workplace, as long as all parties are aware of the path in front of them.
Preparing for Your First Meeting with a Mentor
At this point, the hard work starts. You have decided on your goals. You have matched with a mentor that you know will help you on your journey and you have set up your first meeting. There is a chance that your mentor has been in their particular field for quite some time and perhaps even mentored others. There will be an expectation of what to expect from that first meeting and it should be approached professionally and taken seriously.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Be prepared. Have a strong understanding of what it is you want from the mentorship. Make notes of your strengths and weaknesses as detailed above and prepare an agenda for discussion. Mentors are highly encouraged by someone who knows what they want to discuss and are happy to openly talk about it as it means they are not solely having to open or lead conversations. Here is a list of questions to ask your mentor that will set you up for a successful relationship.
- It can be beneficial to email a short agenda of your preparations to your mentor prior to the meeting. They will gain an understanding of what sort of challenges you are facing and it can also give them some time to prepare their own side of the conversation. The may have an example in a project of a similar challenge that they would not be able to find without prior warning.
- Ensure the first meeting is face to face. Ideally in a neutral location, or somewhere and at a time where neither party will be disturbed by work. It is quite common to meet up at the mentor’s place of work, however, distractions can happen. So, for both mentor and mentee to recognize the other’s commitment, it is helpful to avoid this type of situation.
- Build rapport – The discussion initially should focus on your values and why you think this person can help you. Clarity of what is open for discussion during the first meeting and down the line helps to set the tone. Discussing hobbies and interests helps to build the rapport, especially when you find a similarity within life outside of work. It helps to relax both parties and make conversation easier. This can lead on to passions and career history, which opens the forum and is a good segue into the topic of work and mentorship.
- Clarify the boundaries of discussion. Perhaps there has been a difficult challenge at work, a difficult boss or a project or it may be that balancing home and work life is one of your many challenges and it is good to connect with your mentor by talking about these things quite openly. This not only opens conversation but helps you find out how to create a starting point for your next step. Discussion about job stresses or concerns can help let your mentor know where you might need more support and enables you to talk freely in a confidential environment.
- Set clear objectives. This may not be instant and may even take a few meetings before you both get there, but it is important if you are going to get there. Setting a timescale for the first meeting can help you to keep things on track. It can be difficult to find the balance initially, which is why the pre-planning can be hugely beneficial. You don’t want to be filling silences for the sake of it, or talking over and beyond the scheduled time as your mentor may have other commitments.
- Ask questions and prepare to be asked questions. Asking your mentor things like "How did you do that?" may not be entirely beneficial to you. So open this up with "How would you do that today?" or "What would you do differently?". The idea is not to be a carbon copy of your mentor but to adapt their practices in a way that works for you. By taking these ideas, they will be relevant to you today.
- Take notes.This does not mean to take full minutes of the conversation, after all the first meeting is a chance for you and your mentor to get to know each other, but it is ideal to go in with your agenda and make additions or changes as things come up. It will show you are taking things seriously and gives you something else to work on in between meetings.
- Plan the next meeting. This is a great time to discuss how to go forward, now you have met face to face. It may not be convenient to do this every time due to work, family or travel commitments depending on both yourself and your mentor’s location. But it is a good idea to schedule in the next meeting, not pencil it in. You both deserve the commitment toward the program and should be happy at this point for the mentorship to continue. Discuss the possibility of video or conference calling and if either party is happy to do so. The trick is to not fall into this every time.
- Underpromise and overdeliver. For a mentorship to move forward, you have to be able to show something from your time. It is an investment that both of you should be able to see the return on. By setting your standards too high and promising that you will do something that is currently an unobtainable target will keep meetings stuck at square one. Remember the aim is progress, even if it is slow to start with.
- Summarize the meeting. It can be really positive to put this summary into an email to your mentor. They will see you have paid attention to the discussions and will have a visible document to show that you are delivering on your promise. It is also helpful to let the mentor know what you found beneficial from the meeting, what you may want to continue to discuss more of and what you maybe didn’t find so helpful. There may be a different way you can learn or expand on a certain subject.This can only happen when both parties are aware of what went right and wrong.
- Meet with your mentor more. The aim should be to meet with your mentor more than four times a year. Anything less than this and you will find it difficult to build rapport as well as finding it harder to keep track of progress. It is not ideal to meet every week, your mentor does not need an update to everything that happens in your work life, but it should allow time enough in between meetings to attend to various tasks and projects you have discussed in the last meeting.
- Enjoy it! Overall the whole experience should be enjoyable. If you have not found the connection with your mentor that you have imagined, then it may be handled quite professionally in discussing this with each other. It is not a bad thing to do this when the other option is to stick at something that neither of you are benefitting from and then realise six months down the line that it hasn’t worked out. Just because you don’t have the same common interests however, doesn’t mean that the mentorship isn’t working. There are a lot of mentorships in this modern age that are successfully based on learning from someone in a different field to their mentor. Their values may stand for something you aspire to, their methods to get to their point in their career may appeal to you and it may turn into a more formal mentorship with a healthy path to the top of your career path.
Empowering Yourself to Reach Your Goals
Once the first meeting is complete, as a mentee you should feel empowered to keep riding this train to the top. It should be an exciting time to kickstart a new path in your career and to have the support of somebody who was once in your shoes should give you the drive to keep going with your mentorship. The first meeting is about setting up the rapport and giving you the tools and reference point to enable you to seek out answers to new questions.It is crucial to start off a mentorship well and to be open and honest with each other about what you want to do, where you want to be in five years and how you want to get there. Remember if there is an aspect of the program that scares you or you are unsure of, your mentor is there to support you, but they cannot do this if they are not aware or if you don’t give them the chance. Remaining professional throughout the mentorship can be beneficial, but in a lot of cases, it can turn into a friendship that grows even beyond career changes. You may even find that you can draw upon your experiences and want to become a mentor and use your ideals and passions to help shape the next generation. And it all started with that first meeting, so make it count.