Coaching and Mentoring
How to Find and Get the Best from a Good Mentor
There are many articles, which extol the virtues of finding and then regularly consulting a good mentor at work. At least a few of these include that it:
- brings new and different experience to the mentored person’s own
- helps to open up new perspectives and possibilities
- assists in workplace problem solving
- offers an independent person to whom an individual can share his or her thoughts and concerns
The benefits of such a relationship are therefore clear but how such mentoring is sought and then operated, to be most beneficial to both parties, is less so. In this brief article we therefore want to describe how the mentor/mentee relationship is often best established and then operated to the benefit of both parties.
Finding the right mentor
It is important to realize that a mentor is not a coach and is (for the most part) not paid to be a mentor, as an external coach would be likely to be. As such, to be offered mentoring is a “gift” and should be established with the full agreement of the person being asked to be a mentor. For an individual wanting to be mentored therefore, his or her primary job is to choose wisely and be clear with the possible mentor what he or she needs and how he or she would like the relationship to operate. This includes the kind of issues that he or she would like to talk about (at least in broad terms), where the greatest work or career challenges exist (at the moment anyway) and how often he or she would like to get together and for how long (remotely over the phone for instance or in person).
Assuming that the mentor/mentee matching is soundly established, the success of the relationship will be heavily biased towards the mentee doing five key things ahead of each and every meeting as follows:
1. Preparing well in advance. Although meetings with a mentor may be called quickly and be short (and may only occur over the phone in some cases) there is no excuse for not being well-prepared on the mentee’s part. What this means in practice is that the mentee should plan in advance and even write down some of the questions they would like to ask or think carefully about the input being sought. This helps to keep the discussion focused and is respectful of the mentor’s time.
2. A high level of personal organization. Although much of the purpose of a mentoring relationship is designed to help steer a mentee when they face difficult or confusing issues, problems and challenges, over the long term a mentor will expect that a mentee learns and is personally well-organized when it comes to addressing their challenges in a logical way. This extends to explaining issues in succinct and organized language and being able to quickly identify what exact input or advice is needed.
3. A willingness to show vulnerability. Being vulnerable means being open, even if it’s to criticism. In the context of a mentoring relationship this means that a more vulnerable mentee is likely to give a mentor the confidence to speak up and share their real views. This means that the mentee is likely to get better quality and real information and feedback upon which they can reflect and then adjust strategies when appropriate. Showing vulnerability and asking for advice puts the mentor in a position of power of course but it also helps to build the relationship on a sound base of trust.
4. The capacity to be open and to push for more direct feedback. On a strong foundation of vulnerability described above, a mentee is always best served to push for the most direct feedback possible. In practical terms this means asking questions and lots of them. Not only does this make it easier for the mentor to share what’s on his or her mind but the mentee will inevitably get more candid feedback and most important actionable advice.
5. The commitment to follow through on agreed upon actions and to be accountable. As much as a mentor may like a mentee or feel a strong connection, most mentors report that their greatest frustration is with mentee’s poor follow through or inability to take the actions they agreed to take during a prior discussion. The implication is that the mentor has to repeat their advice each time they meet and that they start to lose confidence that the mentee can listen to advice and act on it efficiently – this is obviously to be avoided.
If a mentee does all five of the above, not only will the mentor/mentee relationship be a solid one but both parties will gain much from the relationship.