A mentoring relationship has many benefits not least the support, guidance and advice from someone who has experienced the issues that you may be facing. Great mentors assist their mentee to set personal development and career goals. They will help the mentee to create a plan to achieve their goals, and offer practical support to implement the plan. They also act as a sounding board for the mentee. A skilled mentor will challenge any limiting beliefs held by the mentee, and encourage discussion about what it takes to achieve their goals.
With such manifest benefits why then can mentoring feel like a disappointing waste of time for some? What makes the difference? Choosing the right mentor for the right mentee is the key. When things don't work out, sometimes it is a lack of personal chemistry that combines with a mismatch of styles. Possibly there are different expectations for the relationship. Likely there is insufficient access and time with the mentor. Perhaps neither party understood the responsibilities of the commitment. What if the advice just isn't helpful or turns out to be poor.
No doubt there are other reasons why some mentoring relationships never live up to the initial flush of enthusiasm on both sides. What can be done to avoid such a sorry situation? Luckily it is not difficult to do. Here are seven tips to help you create a successful and mutually beneficial mentoring relationship:
1. Be clear about what you want. What’s your goal? Mentoring works well when both parties share a common understanding as to the purpose of the relationship. Don't leave this to chance. If you only assume, your mentor will have to guess what you want from them and this rarely is satisfactory for either side. I have noticed that those who gain the best value from a mentoring relationship tend to be people who are resourceful and clear about what they want and are ready to communicate this from the start. Be willing to explain what will make the mentoring worthwhile.
2. Do your homework. Mentoring relationships are a partnership, with both parties working equally together with mutual respect. As with any relationship, the mentoring relationship develops over time. Fast forward this process by showing your mentor that you have bothered to find out about their career and interests. It isn't difficult and yet, so often people bowl up to their first meeting having done little or no preparation. How can you hope to engage the interest of your mentor if you show no interest in them?
3. Turn up prepared. Identify the gaps in your experience and knowledge by conducting a personal SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Be frank and open. It is not the time for false modesty nor is it sensible to over-egg your achievements and abilities. Be authentic and realistic in the self-assessment of your skills and knowledge and validate these with your mentor.
4. Provide timely feedback. After meeting with your mentor, take the time to reflect on what you found most useful and how you might incorporate the learning gained into your plans. Turn up to each meeting having reviewed your notes. Reflect on the progress you have made since the previous session. Let your mentor know what has worked for you and share any additional ideas. Sometimes things don’t work out. Try to think through the reasons and be prepared to talk it out. Your mentor will appreciate your honesty and value open and sincere feedback. Your timely communication will help them to flex their approach and adjust the content of the mentoring sessions accordingly.
5. Use discretion. A good mentoring relationship requires mutual trust. Respect this, and you will gain a great deal from the process. Demonstrate good sense and maturity by not revealing to others information a mentor has shared with you in confidence.
6. Take responsibility for the outcomes. Mentoring involves skills and knowledge transfer from a more experienced to a less qualified person. Your mentor’s role is to guide and support, but don’t forget that it is you who are responsible for driving your career. An excellent guide will not create dependency. They understand that their role is to provide advice to help the mentee make their own decisions. It is up to you to put in the work necessary to achieve your mentoring goals.
7. Give something in return. It is a two-way relationship and so offer something back to your mentor in exchange for their time and know-how. It can be as simple as sharing an article that you’ve read on a topic that is of interest to them. Perhaps your mentor has a charity that they support. Why not volunteer for a day’s work as a gesture of goodwill. At the very least ask the question: ‘Is there something I can help you with?’ It doesn’t take much of an effort and it will make all the difference to the value they attach to the relationship with you.
Make sure that your next mentoring experience is set up to succeed. All it takes is thoughtful planning and some effort, yet the rewards are evident.