How to get the most out of mentoring

In last week’s post, one of the pieces of advice I gave to new managers was to get themselves a mentor. I promised to follow up with a separate post on how to find a mentor and how to get the most out of your mentoring relationship.

1)Finding a mentor

So, first question – if you don’t have a mentor but want one – what is it you are looking for? Take a moment to list the top five qualities you want in a mentor. This is really important as it will help you determine the kind of person you’ll click with.

Next, what is it you want help with? The question I always ask anyone I’m mentoring is “what difference do you want to see/feel and do you want others to see/feel in 6/9/12 months’ time?” It really helps your mentor, when you get them, if you’ve had a think about this stuff.

Then it’s a case of finding a mentor that matches your criteria. If you work in a large organisation they may already have a mentoring scheme in place and so, it’s always worth starting with your HR or Learning & Development teams. If there isn’t such a scheme in your organisation, then it’s time to tap in to you network. Here are some examples to get you started:

Senior managers in your organisation – if your organisation doesn’t have a formal scheme then why not send an email to a senior manager who you think could help? If you’re a bit reticent then you could always speak to your own line manager for assistance.

LinkedIn – if you are already connected to someone who you think matches what you need, then drop them a note via Inmail. As a mentor, believe me when I say that you really won’t be irritating. It’s always lovely and a real honor to be asked. As the saying goes, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And if you aren’t connected to a person on LinkedIn but you want them to be your mentor, why not use your own connections? One of them is bound to be connected to the person you’re thinking of, and so you can ask your connection to introduce you. (Note – this is always far better than sending a generic connection request with no context. Please don’t send random connection requests to strangers, particularly asking them to be your mentor. This can be irritating and come across as unprofessional – something you don’t want!)

University and college networks – if you are a student, then your uni or college should have a mentoring network. However, if that’s not quite right for you, how about asking lecturers? As a lecturer on a Masters programme, I have been asked to be a mentor by around a dozen students over the past few years and I’ve said yes to over half. Where I haven’t been able to, due to other commitments, I’ve introduced the student to someone in my professional field who I think would make a good mentor for them.

These definitely aren’t a finite list of ideas but should be enough to get you started.

2)Rules for mentoring sessions

As someone who has been mentoring others for over 15 years, here are some of the things that I think a mentor will always appreciate:

Turning up to sessions on time – bearing in mind that your mentor is giving you their very precious time, make sure you turn up on time. A bigger sin is not turning up at all – that has happened to me and to other mentors I know. Unless there is a really good reason then you can guarantee that a second mentoring session is unlikely to happen.

Doing your ‘homework’ – if you and your mentor come up with an action plan and you have some things to try out ahead of your next session, then make sure you do them. There is nothing more disheartening for a mentor than a mentee who isn’t putting the effort in.

Preparing for your next session – this is slightly different to homework. This is about having good questions and ideas to pose to your mentor. Things that you think they can help you with or challenge you on. One thing I suggest to mentees is to keep a journal of notable events that have happened since the previous session. That way, you’re guaranteed to have quality things to discuss and explore.

Be honest – It might be that the balance between the pair of you isn’t right – so the mentor is telling you what to do in the coming month, rather than the both of you coming up with ideas (which might be the root cause of the issue of you not doing your ‘homework’). If this is the case, then you need to be honest and say this. In addition, if the chemistry isn’t quite right and the relationship doesn’t quite feel right – you need to say. A good mentor, should regularly be asking, “How is this for you? Is it working?” A very good mentor will have a thick enough skin to handle it if you turn around and say, “It’s not quite working”, and an excellent mentor will help you find a more suitable alternative without taking it personally.

3)Pay it forward

Something I always insist of anyone that I mentor is that at some point they mentor someone themselves. This has a double whammy in that (a) it makes you feel good to help other people (b) you learn loads about yourself as a mentor and (c) you further develop your skillset of listening, asking questions, empathising etc.

Whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, I’d love to hear about your experiences. What difference has mentoring make to you? Do you think I’ve left anything important out in the advice above? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments box.

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

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