Building Successful Mentoring Relationships

January 21, 2020

A few best practices to establish a strong mentor partnership.

A successful mentorship relationship is based on how effectively the Mentor, the Mentee, and the Relationship all work together.

Here we'll outline a few best practices and strategies to ensure a successful mentorship relationship. Read through below, or click on the section you're interested in to skip ahead!

Tips for Mentors:

1. You can say no.

It’s always flattering when somebody asks you to be her mentor: she sees you as a positive and inspiring role model who she wants to emulate. But what if you don’t feel that connection? Or you don’t have the experience that is necessary to help her grow? Or you just don’t have time for another mentee?

It’s okay.

You don’t need to take on a mentor role just because somebody asks you. Successful mentorship comes from authenticity, and a lack of authentic interest will prevent the relationship from its full potential. Be honest about why you don’t think you are a good fit for her: it will help her reevaluate potential mentor candidates.

2. Treat your mentee as person, not a checklist:

Authentic connection drives a positive relationship to develop and grow (sound familiar?). Each woman looking for a mentorship relationship with you has a different reason she has asked you for advice: successful mentorship is not a one size fits all solution. Remember that everyone grows in different ways and at different paces: it’s not your responsibility to determine who can or can’t succeed—your responsibility is to help every woman who you decide to mentor on the path to success.

Where does she wants to be in five years, and how can you help her plan the path to get there?

3. Character > Skills

As a mentor, you should focus on character development over skills development. Skills are relatively easy to pick-up, but character growth is very difficult to do your own. Help her define her values, improve her self-awareness, and increase her capacity for empathy and respect. Skills development prepares her for a job; character development prepares her for leadership.

4. Let your optimism be heard:

One of the most difficult responsibilities as a mentor is addressing unrealistic ambitions. You might want to tell your mentee to reevaluate her goals and to aim a little lower, tell her that she’s too ambitious.

It’s okay to believe in the impossible things. With your support, your energy, and encouragement, she very well might execute her ideas and accomplish greatness.

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

5. Lead by example:

This seems like given, but it warrants an explanation: be a positive role model. As a mentor, your mentee will watch how you navigate the world and learn a lot through observing the way you do it. She’ll see how your values, your ethics, your style, and your methods play out in real life, and she’ll likely follow your lead. She’ll adapt your approach to her own life, building confidence knowing that she’s affiliating herself with you.

As a person with influence over others, you need to be aware of your actions and behaviors. Model the behavior that you hope to see in your mentees.

Tips for Mentees:

1. Identify your goals

Before you engage with a mentor, identify your personal and professional goals that you hope to work on. Where do you see yourself in five years, and how will you get there? Nobody can tell you what is best for you. In order for a mentorship to succeed, you need to come in prepared with your own goals, and a rough map of how you will achieve those goals. The mentor's responsibility is to support as you travel along the path you created.

2. Ask for what you need

As a mentee, it is your responsibility to lead the relationship. Your development and goals are the reasons for the meetings, so you need to be the more active participant: set meeting dates, come ready with an agenda, and have your questions prepared. Additionally, be open with your needs and challenges. It's hard to be vulnerable, especially with someone whom your respect professionally, but its essential to the process.

3. Listen!

Remember that your mentor is volunteering their time to be there for you and support you as you progress in your career. Be respectful of their time and listen to the feedback they give you: that doesn't mean you follow every piece of advice they give you, but listen with an open mind and heart.

4. Look for challenges

Be on the look out for unexpected challenges. There will be many points in the mentorship process where you will be challenged to get out of your comfort zone. Embrace those challenges, you never know what kind of growth you'll get from each experience!

5. Be accountable

Last, but definitely not least, be accountable.

Mentorship only works when you put in the effort: do what you set forth to do. It's your responsibility to act on the plan set by both you and your mentor. No one can do it for you — your personal growth and development is in your hands.

Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash

Tips to establish a successful Relationship:

Before you even involve another person, it is important to determine what kind of relationship will suit your development goals: are you looking for a formal relationship that will stay 100% professional, or are you open to an informal relationship where you get to know your counterpart’s personal interests? Is it important to you for your mentor/mentee to be local or are you willing to have a digital mentorship experience? What are your expectations when you embark on this relationship?

1. Give yourselves enough time (but not too much time):

Make sure that you give yourselves enough time to fully discuss the issues at hand. A baseline recommendation is 2 hours for an in-person meeting, 1 hour for a virtual meeting. Of course it depends on the amount of time each party has available, but 2 hours for an in-person meeting and 1 hour for a virtual meeting should allow you to get through the agenda while also staying focused.

Adjust your meeting lengths as needed. Longer or shorter, as long as everyone is on board, do what you need to do to have the most effective meetings possible.

2. Be engaged and deliver on promises

One of the keys to forming a successful mentoring relationship is to be engaged. Both the mentor and the mentee need to be invested in what the other has to say, and to want to makes progress towards the same goals. When you let the other person know that you care about what she has to say, she will trust that you are there to see it through.

And in talking about trust, we also need to talk about delivering on your promises. Another important part of developing a strong relationship is your follow through: did you tell your mentee you were going to set her up with a former boss of yours? did you tell your mentor that you'd schedule your meetings for the next two months?

Developing trust in the other person, that they care about your journey and they actively want to be a part of it, is essential to establishing a positive, mutually beneficial relationship!

3. Respect

Last, but not least, respect. Every relationship that you form needs to built on a solid foundation of respect: respect for the person, their experiences, and their goals. Take every opportunity to learn from each othernot only do mentees learn from their mentors, mentors can learn much about themselves from both the mentees and the process itself.

The point of mentorship is not just to get from point A to point B, it's a process to establish your own best practices in life. You have the opportunity to learn, from both people who have succeeded and people have yet to succeed, methods of relationship building and career development that will allow you to take the next step forward.

We hope this has been a helpful review of best practices to build a successful mentorship relationship! For more information on mentorship check out these links:

PowerHouse Montana Links:
What is Mentorship and How Does it Work?
The Importance of a Mentor

Outside Links:
What the Best Mentors Do
Great Mentors Focus on the Whole Person, Not Just Their Career
Mentoring Matters: Three Essential Elements of Success

Leave a comment below and tells us your thoughts on mentorship! How has PowerHouse Montana helped you build relationships in your own life?