Monday, August 1, 2011

What is a Mentee's Role? 5 Key Attributes

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This past Friday I was invited to participate on a panel hosted by a technology company in San Francisco on the topic of mentoring. It was a fantastic session with many great questions! Over the course of the next few months I'll be taking some of those questions and turning them into broader blog posts. To start off this 'series' I'd like to discuss the role of the mentee in a mentoring relationship.

I've already posted tips on how to ask someone to be your mentor and tips for starting off with a new mentee but never really covered this particular angle. If you are a mentor feel free to use this as a guide to help start off your conversations with possible mentees. If you are a mentee please use this as a checklist to ensure you are more than just willing but fully enthusiastic about each of these attributes!

For a successful mentoring relationship to occur the mentee must be:

  1. Proactive - The mentee must be proactive in 2 important ways. First, it is usually a mentee that seeks out a mentor and rarely the other way around. It is the mentee that stands the most to gain, at least initially, from these conversations and therefore needs to be the one to do the reaching out. Generally folks with enough experience to be mentors are extremely busy and won't seek out mentees to make themselves even more busy. Secondly, it's key for the mentee to approach each mentoring conversation prepared with topics to discuss. You may or may not end up covering every topic. Over time you'll probably get to a point where formal preparation becomes unnecessary. But at the beginning a mentee should not expect a mentor to have a list of things to talk about other than ask some general questions (i.e. "are you happy?")
  2. Trustworthy - The mentoring relationship by necessity needs to be a confidential one. Only by being trustworthy can a mentor feel free to share their own personal experiences and advice with the mentee. Without trust and confidentiality from each person the conversations will at best fail and at worst damage someone's career or feelings.
  3. Patient - Patience is required by the mentee in a myriad of ways. Sometimes a mentee needs to be patient just to get on a mentor's calendar. Other times advice given on particular topics takes time to internalize and implement. Mentoring is not a tactical, one shot type of activity. It's a relationship and a series of conversations. And as in any relationship patience is a key ingredient to success.
  4. Good listener - Of course it's critical for a mentor to be a good listener so it's easy to forget that a mentee needs to be just as good a listener. There's no point discussing topics with a mentor if the mentee doesn't have a determination and mindset to listen to the suggestions offered.
  5. Committed to the time required - Finally, both the mentor and the mentee need to make a commitment to each other regarding the time required to build a solid mentoring relationship. It doesn't have to be a large commitment (I usually do 1 hour every 2 weeks with either person able to cancel should an urgent matter come up) but it still needs to be a commitment nonetheless. Without some regularity in the mentoring relationship the conversations will lose their arc and their focus. New mentoring conversations almost always build on past ones so keeping those threads alive and close will benefit greatly.
As in any maturing relationship once your mentoring one solidifies the logistics become less formal (i.e. how often you meet and how much of an agenda the mentee needs to bring) but other aspects such as patience and trustworthiness go on forever.

One final recommendation: as a mentee write down a short list of results you want out of mentoring. What does a successful mentoring relationship look like to you? Whether you decide to share this list with your mentor or not, it's still important to crystallize and communicate your expectations at the beginning of the relationship so you can ensure you are both on the same page.

Good luck!

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