Mentoring relationships like any other relationship don’t thrive in a vacuum or by chance. All meaningful relationships must be nurtured to achieve the desired end. Identifying a mentor is only but the beginning of a great mentoring journey which requires investment and constant nourishing for it to flourish. The question is – how do you nurture a mentoring relationship?
Here are a few tips on how you can nurture a mentoring relationship to thrive:
Clarify your goals. Prior to entering into a mentoring relationship, think about what you want to get out of the relationship and articulate these into clear goals that you can share with your mentor at the start of the relationship. Clarifying goals helps the mentor to know where to focus their energy as well as providing a benchmark for tracking progress. Whatever doesn’t get measured, half the time never gets done.
Take initiative. When someone offers to mentor you, they offer you their time and expertise so take the lead in driving the schedule and the discussion topics. Make each meeting count by being intentional about maximizing every session. Each meeting, you should bring a list of topics for discussion. For each, you should brief your mentor on the topic, present the problem/challenge/opportunity, outline your current thinking about strategy or next steps, and solicit your mentor’s advice.
Be available. Mentees shouldn’t commit to a new mentoring relationship if they don’t have the time to meet on the agreed schedule. Nothing is more frustrating for e mentor than to feel like their time has been wasted or underutilised. Time is precious so don’t ask for someone’s time if it is not a priority for you. You need to make sure that you aren’t too greedy for their mentor’s time either. It is you responsibility to keep up the relationship and to get a sense for what the appropriate frequency and venue is.
Be open to learning. A mentee will get more value out of a mentoring relationship if they take in advice from their mentor rather than focusing only on hanging around them. When you choose to be a mentee, be ready to learn and implement the counsel you receive. It is disrespectful to keep seeking advice from your mentor and not acting on it. Eventually your mentor will give up on you and consider you a waste of their time. So before you seek counsel, be ready to apply it to your life.
A focus on listening. As a mentee, it is tempting to want to promote yourself and your accomplishments to more senior and influential mentors. It is also tempting to want to top a mentor’s anecdote or idea with your own. Don’t. As a mentee, you’re better served by milking examples, ideas and learnings out of your mentor, and then leveraging your mentor to help apply them to your space.
Vulnerability. If a mentor chooses not to give a mentee a desired referral or has discomfort with other aspects of the relationship, then they need to be honest with their mentee and present clear feedback. Be vulnerable with your mentor and admit when you fail so they know how to support you. If you keep showing up as perfect, then you have no need for mentoring. It may take a few meetings to build the trust necessary to give this type of candid feedback, but try to get there quickly.
Confidentiality. Mentoring involves a high level of vulnerability on both ends. Commit to keep the life and privacy of your mentor at all costs. A mentor can share deep secrets about their life for your learning purpose so it is important that you value their vulnerability and safe guard it. Before you share aspects of your mentor’s life, be sure they are comfortable about disclosing that part of their lives to the general public.
Know when to dissolve. A series of unproductive meetings may be a signal that a mentoring relationship has run its course. Maybe the mentor isn’t a good fit for the mentee, or maybe the needs of the mentee have shifted since the relationship was established. A mentee shouldn’t be afraid to explicitly dial down the frequency of meetings or stop them entirely. Whichever way you do it, don’t burn the bridge behind you.