A good mentor can be invaluable in helping you to succeed – in business, in your career or to solve a particular problem. However, many people find themselves mentors who do not have training or experience in mentoring.
I was at a mentoring event this week (I was the expert on the panel), and two different people came to me and asked the same question ‘how can I get more value from my mentor?’ Having given them both the same advice, I thought other people would also find it useful.
1. Research your mentor
This may seem obvious, but is often forgotten. Don’t be afraid of looking them up on LinkedIn or their company website, or ask about their experience as a mentor. They will respect you for asking, and it shows you are serious.
Tip – look them up first, and then ask them questions about something relevant that interests you about their experience at (or before) your first meeting.
2. Not everyone can mentor
So, you’ve found out that they have relevant experience, now you need to know whether you can work with them.
Just because they have the right experience, it doesn’t mean you can develop the rapport needed to work them to achieve your goals.
Just because someone is very senior or has been successful doesn’t mean they will be any good as a mentor. Mentoring requires a special blend of good coaching skills, empathy and relevant experience. A good mentoring relation requires mutual respect, good listening skills and the ability to gently challenge you. Without these, mentoring can be a discouraging experience.
Tip – if the rapport isn’t there, it probably won’t work well as a mentoring relationship. Don’t wait – find a new mentor quickly.
3. Communicate your objectives
Mentoring works best if you agree goals with your mentor at the start. You can help them help you, by identifying what you want to achieve, and how you think they might be able to help you achieve them. For example, do you want them to help you:
- Build your confidence
- Gain a new skill
- Move up the career ladder
- Think through your career/business options
- Get an outside/different perspective on a difficult business problem
- Get help to grow or consolidate your business
- Get some different business/career options
Tip – tell them what you would like to achieve from your mentoring relationship
4. Set clear expectations
The challenge is to find a way to help your mentor become a better mentor! This may sound perverse, but most mentors have no training or, indeed, any clear idea on how to be a good mentor. Many senior people are very good at giving you ‘advice’. While this may be helpful, it usually doesn’t help you to apply it you to your particular situation.
If they are not trained mentors, they may have a different expectation on how they can work with you. This may seem daunting, but will save misunderstandings later.
- How often, how long and where you will meet
- Everything you discuss is strictly confidential on both sides, unless otherwise agreed by you both
- What they can and can’t help you with
- How to communicate between mentoring sessions
Tip – agree expectations at your first meeting. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.
5. Take charge of the mentoring relationship
While you may not feel very comfortable about taking charge, it will help build your confidence and your mentor will thank you for it. Although your mentor will get benefit from being a mentor, the primary purpose of mentoring is to help the mentee achieve their objectives. If you are not committed to achieving these, why would you expect your mentor to commit to them?
This means being proactive and demonstrating your committment.
Tip – Don’t wait for your mentor to contact you and complete any agreed work on time.
There is no absolute guarantee. However, if you do all these things you will significantly increase your chance of success. Good Luck.