Having had mentors all of my adult life I am a big advocate for building connections with people who are where you want to be, or have experience in the areas you need to learn more about.
We regularly see blogs written about how to choose the best mentor, including what that mentor should offer you. I have shared my thoughts on this topic before.
However, what about the mentee’s responsibility in all of this? What is their role in this relationship and what should they be offering the mentor in return for the mentors’ valuable time and wisdom?
While we tell people they need a mentor I don’t believe everyone is necessarily ready to have the privilege of a mentor — and it is a privilege. So, before you run out and find yourself the best mentor, do a little self-assessment by answering these questions first to make sure you are ready:
What do I need from this mentor?
I have always had different mentors for different needs as I don’t believe one person can cover everything all the time. Make a list of the burning questions you have or experiences you need specific help with. This will ensure you are actually asking the right person, you can get positive outcomes from the experience and not waste anyone’s time.
Am I ready to listen, even if it’s not what I want to hear?
There are times I haven’t liked what my mentors have said. I didn’t want to listen because their ‘advice’ was hard for me to implement or meant I had to make a tough decision I didn’t want to make. While mentors are not always right and their role is to share experience more than anything, they are their purely to help you. They are not there to be your friend (although I have built really strong friendships with all of my mentors and mentees).
When in a mentoring role they are there to tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. I remember one particularly stressful time I was on the phone crying to my mentor about everything that was happening. He quite abruptly said to me “stop crying Sel, and get back to work”. It felt super harsh at the time but it was exactly what I needed!
Am I prepared to do the work?
Mentors are giving you their time for free, and in return you need to do what you say you are going to do. I have cut mentees off after a few sessions because in between our catchups they weren’t doing the work. They wanted to talk about all the things they were going to do and hear about all the things I’ve done but when it came to them taking action nothing was happening. The best way to respect and thank your mentor is to show them your commitment by getting results.
I am currently mentoring a young entrepreneur who is in early stage startup. I am finding the entire experience extremely rewarding because while his business model is within my experience, his service is not so I am also learning a lot. He is enthusiastic, a great listener, prepared to make big sacrifices to be successful, work hard and be truly committed to the mentoring relationship. I feel lucky to have such a great mentee and that is exactly how a mentor should feel about mentoring you. If at any time it becomes a chore for them you need to rethink how you are performing as the mentee!