Monday, November 15, 2010

Tips for starting off with a new mentee

A reader writes: "How do you engage your mentee?  What activities/discussions are good to do together early on?"

Excellent question! And an important one especially if you have someone, a mentee, who is brand new to mentoring and isn't sure if this time you are going to spend together is really worthwhile.

Before getting to the 'engagement' part of the conversation it's extremely important to set the ground rules first. Only when you've established a comfortable and confidential space for discussion can you then dive into the good stuff. I always start off a new relationship with the following rules:

1. Everything said during our mentoring conversations stays with us without exception unless explicitly stated otherwise. Without establishing confidentiality and, over time, trust it will be impossible to fully reap all the benefits these conversations have to offer. Both of you have to feel that you can talk about and say anything whether it's as delicate a topic as something against your boss, your company, yourself, etc. The freer you each feel the more in depth the conversations can be and the closer to "truth" you both get. There is no greater sin during mentorship than breaking this confidentiality.

2. Mentoring is 2-way street! I've said this before in the blog but I'll say it again. Mentoring is really a shared learning experience even if it starts out with one person 'advising' another person. I like to make clear at the beginning that I expect to learn from my mentee as much as they expect to learn from me. We all bring different talents and perspectives to the table and I like to make sure my new mentee knows that I recognize that and expect that kind of 2 way engagement.

3. If I am in the same company as the mentee I make sure they know that I will not participate in any performance or promotion conversations about them. The only way to have a 2-way barrier-free dialog is to set the rule that nothing said will be used against or for the person should that topic come up with other managers in the organization. It simply isn't fair to them or to anyone else. Our mentoring relationship stands outside of the company and the fact that we both work in the same firm is a 'coincidence'.

Now onto the fun to start off....

Most people's favorite activity, whether they admit it or not, is to talk about themselves. So I like to make the first few conversations a lot of fun for the mentee by asking them a lot of questions about themselves and actively listening to their responses.

Once the general "resume" type and logistics questions are out of the way here is a set of questions I like to ask:

  1. Why did you seek out a mentor?
  2. What do you expect to get, if anything, from a mentor?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  4. Are you happy?
These questions are focused on them and on what they need from this relationship over time. That last question usually leads off into an important direction and has provided an arc for the next set of meetings. (But not always.)

At some point early on I like to make an explicit, verbal commitment to help the mentee in any way I can. Making this commitment deliberately and early in the relationship can be really powerful. As an adult I believe it's rare to find someone that is willing to make such a commitment to help you professionally. I have literally seen people's faces light up when I've said that I'm there for them. That alone, for me, makes mentoring worthwhile.

Speaking of questions here are some questions other mentors have said they use with their mentees/clients:
  1. What does success look like?
  2. How / why were you successful this past week?
  3. Is there something you have always wanted to do but never tried? possibly never even told anyone?
  4. What would happen / what could and would you do if all obstacles magically disappeared?
  5. What does it feel like to be you?
The obvious qualities you want to exhibit with your mentees always are: 1. empathy/sympathy 2. respect 3. curiosity 4. enthusiasm. How we each do that varies but just keeping these qualities in mind during all conversations will help tremendously. Demonstrating curiosity, empathy and enthusiasm should naturally and organically engage your new mentee.

Finally a key part to ensuring engagement from a new mentee is something that is a little out of our control and that's chemistry. You both have to a certain extent "hit it off". Not every pairing is going to hit it off and that's ok. You and your new mentee may find that for whatever reason it's not meant to be. If that happens move quickly to recognize that without recrimination and send them on their way to find a mentor who'd be a better fit for whatever reason. If you don't enjoy each other's company you'll have a hard time staying engaged!

I hope this answers the question! Thanks again for writing in and keep them coming.

No comments: