Monday, May 21, 2012

4 Questions To Ask A Mentor

Image from: http://www.openlounge.org/lunargame/one-question-infinite-answers/

“A good coach will make his players see what they can become rather than what they are.”
  – Ara Parseghian

[UPDATE: To see a companion video response to this blog post click here!]

A couple of posts ago we talked about 5 questions a Mentor can ask a new Mentee / Protégé. This time I'd like to suggest some general mentoring-type questions a new Mentee or Protégé can ask their Mentor early on as part of the getting-to-know-each-other phase. This does not by any means replace the work the Mentee has to do to prepare for mentoring conversations. It's still always up to the Mentee to proactively bring up topics to discuss with the Mentor.

But here are four simple questions that you as the Mentee can use to help break the ice, accelerate your knowledge of each other and, perhaps most importantly, help the both of you quickly figure out if this will be a good mentoring match for the long term:

  1. Have you mentored before? - I think it's useful to find out if you are working with a first time mentor. If this is an experienced mentor I'd ask additional questions around what worked well and what didn't with past mentees this person has had. If it is a first time mentor I'd first thank them for the honor of being their first mentee! Then I'd probably spend a little more time going over the "ground rules" covered many times on this blog.
  2. Have you ever had a mentor? - This is a great thing to find out. If this person has had mentors of their own that's a really positive sign. It demonstrates that they care about self-improvement for themselves which likely means they'll understand and care that you want that for yourself. Also as in question #1 above you can immediately dive into what worked for them as well as what didn't work in those previous relationships.
  3. What are some topics that interest you? - Of course the topics to be discussed are almost always brought up by the mentee. Wouldn't it be interesting though to find out early on that both mentee and mentor share some common interests? If I were asked this question my answer would be (from a mentoring perspective): 1. communication; 2. confidence; 3. influencing.
  4. How can I help you? - This question strongly reinforces the notion that a mentoring relationship is ultimately a two-way street. It also demonstrates that the mentee recognizes he/she should offer something of value back to the mentor. That keeps the goodwill going so to speak. The mentor may not have an answer immediately but when they do the mentee should be sure to honor that request!
There you have it - 4 straightforward, general questions to get you started. I hope you use this as a jumping off point to delve deeper into whatever subjects will be of value to you.

“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” – Japanese Proverb

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