Mentors can be a guiding light, an unbiased voice, and sounding board for professional support and accountability. Not only will you, as the mentee, benefit greatly from a proper mentorship relationship, but your mentor can also benefit from working with you by being able to give back to their community and are typically more satisfied with their professional legacies over those who do not take on a mentorship role.
The problem so many mentorship relationships face is that, while intentions were pure and positive, they end up not working out for a variety of reasons- whether the wrong mentor was chosen, the mentee is unable to take the objective truth and feedback, or the parties weren’t able to hold up to expectations and hold one another accountable.To avoid a mentorship relationship from fizzling out and failing, be sure to follow these key guidelines when establishing your new connection.
- Identify the proper mentor for your career path. If you are working towards a career in a niche market or position, you need to seek out a mentor that is in the position that you are moving towards, so that you can get more specific and tangible feedback and guidance, versus seeking someone out who you generally admire and get along with. If you aren’t sure exactly where you end goal is, or are looking for advice on how to create an ideal career, seeking out a career mentor for specific advice and situational help who has ‘been there, done that’ is another great path to take.
- Clearly set expectations and define what success means to you in the beginning. Without a clear definition of what success looks like and what you expect to get out of the relationship, there is no way for you and your mentor to clearly understand a) what you need from them and b) what they can do to ensure you are successful. Otherwise, you risk wasting both of your times and spinning your wheels without a clear track ahead.
- Establish clear boundaries, too. As your relationship grows and becomes more intimate (no, not in that way) there may be lines that can get blurred or even crossed- such as turning a mentorship lunch into a rant session about how your husband is driving you nuts this week and asking your career mentor for advice. While personal issues may be something that is part of the ‘deal’ in your mentorship relationship (since personal issues do effect your work life) if it hasn’t been clearly defined yet, you risk making your mentor uncomfortable and potentially cause them to step into a realm and issue that you might want to walk back if the truth hurts.
- Define your roles and discuss potential flexibility within the bounds. As a mentor, their role is to provide guidance, support, and tangible advice to you. As a mentee, your role is to set expectations, take honest and clear feedback to heart, learn from the mentor, set up lines of communication and meetings, and ask for help when needed. However, there may be times where the roles may need to flip on occasion when the mentor needs a third person’s perspective on an issue, and discussing that option.
- Come to a mutual agreement on what the total commitment is. This means the financial (for those lunches that you might go dutch on), timewise (when are you meeting and how often?), action based (do you expect them to do anything specific and vice versa?) commitments that are bound to come up throughout the relationship. It is best to establish this in writing and make one another sign it, while this isn’t legally binding, by writing it down and both agreeing to it, you avoid potential miscommunications and are both showing you truly and fully believe in the ideas and agreements.
- Hold one another accountable throughout the entire experience. If one of you isn’t meeting expectations of the other (ya know, the ones you signed and agreed to in #5), you must have an environment that allows for the other to speak up and say something to get everything back on track, and see if expectations should be modified or revisited.
- Which means you have to check in on progress often. Check in with one another on how you think the relationship is going, if you’re set up for success still and if you have any concerns doing so frequently means that you can nip bad habits in the bud and make quick adjustments before things get too far south. Use these regular check ins to evaluate and assess your goals, where you started and where you see this going, and make adjustments if needed.
- Take feedback and criticisms to heart, but not personally. There will be times throughout your career that you handle a situation horribly (*nods aggressively*) or you’re taking personal vendettas or issues with you to the office, and you want to come to your mentor to get their advice on how everyone else was wrong and to probably also vent about it. A great mentor isn’t going to nod their head and listen and agree with you like your girlfriends might on girl’s night, your mentor is going to call it like it is and call you out for the betterment of yourself and your career. Your mentor is there to guide and support you, and sometimes that means telling you how you are wrong or handled a situation poorly, don’t take offense, take note.
- Lastly, don’t have just one mentor, create a Board of Mentors. The problem with having just one mentor is that you don’t get a diverse set of opinions and guidance, you get the insight and guidance of just one person. In order to grow faster and in a more fulfilling way, we recommend creating your own Board of Mentors (or a BoM for short) of multiple diverse individuals inside and outside of your company so you get a broad perspective of guidance and insight.
While some mentor-mentee relationships can, and often do, eventually progress into friendships, treating it as a professional business relationship (which it is) is detrimental. This means that if it runs its course, or is generally not working, one of the parties must bring the relationship to a close in a clear and professional manner with open, and honest communication. Additionally, the relationship cannot be a success if it is not treated with the above guidelines, and individuals may leave the room with feelings of resentment or anger, neither of which are healthy or helpful. Be sure to intentionally and thoroughly develop a positive and professional relationship with your mentor(s) and watch your career take off, and eventually, hear the knocking of mentoring opportunity at your door down the road.