Let’s say that you’ve been lucky enough to find a mentor. Now, before we can explore how to make the most of this relationship, let’s review the difference between a coach and a mentor. A coach provides expert instruction in a task or skill (e.g. a company representative who explained your new project management software). Coaching usually occurs on a short-term and job-specific basis, whereby the student will observe, imitate, and practice the desired skill until a level of proficiency is achieved.
A mentor, in contrast, is a partnership formed with a more experienced professional, that can advise and support your personal and professional development goals. Many people partake in mentorship to increase future job opportunities, grow their business, make connections, and assist you with your future goals. Depending on what they are, mentorship programs can be short-term or long-term.
So, how can you take full advantage of your mentor to maximize your learning and development?
- Understand the role of a mentor
A mentor can be someone you bounce ideas off, solicit feedback from, or reach out to for industry knowledge or connections. Most of all, a mentor is your experienced and trusted advisor. Access to their informed opinion – especially when facing a tough decision – can be an invaluable resource. Even so, a mentor shouldn’t profess to have all the answers. They can help you identify the issue, highlight new perspectives, and suggest a course of action, but shouldn’t be making the decision for you. You might consider asking them why they’ve decided to mentor and see how you make their experience positive as well. Your relationship is a two-way-street, and a strong mutual understanding will produce the best results. Often someone might decide to mentor because it gives them opportunity to showcase their knowledge, teach and encourage growth in others, and challenge themselves in new ways.
- Consider why you want a mentor relationship
While this question may seem obvious at first, outlining a clear and honest vision of what you want to do and where you want to be is a crucial step of your mentorship process. You might ask yourself, what are my short-term and long-term goals? What the objectives, or actions, that will help me achieve them? What about your purpose? Remember that your goals are what you want to do, while your purpose is who you want to be. Once you’re finished, create a simple vision for your career goals that aligns with the purpose you’ve identified. If you present a well-considered vision to your mentor, they’ll be able to help you more effectively.
- Establish clear expectations
Be wary of this common mistake; it is often to blame when mentor relationships fail. To avoid this, have a discussion with your mentor and make sure you’re both on the same page. What do you need help with? Over what timeframe? How and when will you meet? How will the mentorship period wrap-up? Document your agreement so you have a record to refer to. Then, create a shared calendar for regular meetings and deliverables so that you can keep on track with your goals. Remember, your mentor has a limited amount of time to dedicate towards you, so make sure to use it effectively: keep organized, well-planned, and on topic during your meetings. Whenever possible, ask for clarity before the end of a meeting, when your discussion is fresh, and it’s easy for your mentor to provide an answer. Note down action items before you leave and have them organized and ready for your next meeting.
- Show initiative
Showing initiative is a great way to make a good impression and show that you are serious about your growth and development. The mentorship is about you, so it’s okay to steer your discussions to where you need it most. Remember that you’re in control of your own growth, and your mentor is there to help you, first and foremost. Since mentors are busy people, you can be confident reaching out first. Take initiative and set the agenda items or request an impromptu meeting with them. When you meet, always come prepared with questions and any work you’ve been assigned. Go beyond your mentor’s ideas or suggestions from the previous section and do your own research so that you can have a more informed discussion about the topic next time. Requesting feedback from your mentor is another way of showing initiative. It is also an effective way of inviting constructive criticism that can help you to improve yourself.
- Build trust and rapport
It’s essential that you build trust and rapport with your mentor. Open and honest communication between two parties requires mutual understanding and respect. Get to know your mentor. Learn how each other works best and keep that in mind as you develop your relationship. Practice active listening to obtain a better understanding of the needs and information being conveyed by the person who is speaking. Not only will your relationship with your mentor improve – active listeners are more likeable – you’ll also ask more intelligent questions. By improving your communication through active listening you can define and achieve your goals more effectively. Establishing trust also means that you can feel more comfortable sharing personal information with your mentor, and that you can be certain in their confidentiality.
- Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses
You probably have some idea of what you’re good at, and what comes a bit harder for you. Taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses will help you to create a successful development plan that caters to your strengths. You can always ask your mentor to help you identify them in the context of your development goals. Understanding where your talents lie will benefit both your development plan and your relationship with your mentor. Beyond mentorship, this process will benefit you in other aspects of your life, helping you made more informed decisions and have stronger relationships in your personal and professional life.
- Always be prepared
Make it a habit to prepare in advance. Create an agenda in advance and share it with your mentor. Have a discussion questions prepared; here, you might clarify information discussed last time or introduce a new topic. If you finish early, use the remaining time to show your initiative by (e.g. tell them about extra research you’ve done), or get to know them better. Since your time with your mentor is limited, being prepared will help you make the most of it. To avoid issues next time, double-check the time, date, and location of your next meeting. Don’t forget to thank them for their time and express gratitude for their assistance.
- Always follow through
In all aspects of your mentorship, you need to follow through on what you say you’ll do. Following through is part of building trust because it is showing you mean what you say. For each meeting, review action points from the last meeting in advance and make sure that you have completed any assigned tasks beforehand. Whenever you are unable to follow through on something your expected to do, be honest, and upfront with your mentor. Although following through helps to build trust, there will be times when you can’t produce what you’ve promised, and life gets in the way. That’s okay. As long as you relay a change of plans to your mentor, and don’t do it often, you will still be regarded as trustworthy and reliable. If you aren’t able to complete an important task that will derail the meeting, you might consider rescheduling the meeting. Approach these situations with open and honest communication.
- Keep track of your progress
Now that you do have a mentor and you’ve commenced your mentoring program, make sure to keep track of your progress. Refer to the goals and their objectives that you set out at the beginning of the program and evaluate whether you’re achieving your aims. If you’re not progressing fast enough, or developing the knowledge and skills you hoped to, take the time to revise them. With the help of your mentor, you can assess the situation and readjust accordingly.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
You don’t need to limit yourself to one mentor. Each mentor has a different skillset and will be best suited to different parts of your development. For example, you might want to enlist a mentor within your organization as well as outside of it. You’re actually better off having more than one mentor so that you can get well-rounded advisory. As long as you can juggle your commitments, there is no rule against having only one mentor at a time. Especially if your only current mentor is within your organization, you’ll probably find it helpful to have an external mentor to give an outside perspective on things. Remember to be clear with potential mentors (and existing ones) about your needs and goals.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Please feel free to contact me if you want any specific topics to be written about on my website.Sonia Singh