How to Work with a Mentor
By Sheri Kaye Hoff
If you have found a great mentor (either a paid coaching relationship or a volunteer), consider yourself blessed, You have a unique opportunity to tap into that person’s wisdom , possibly develop a lifelong bond, and make a quantum leap in your life. People usually volunteer to mentor people because they want to give back and/ or they really believe in their mentees’ potential/vision. A paid mentoring relationship can be equally or even more beneficial because you generally have your mentor’s undivided attention during paid sessions. Bottom line, is a mentor wants to feel like they are helping to make a difference.
One of the main keys regarding mentoring is maintaining a balance. The mentee needs to keep his or her own voice, and assimilate mentor guidance. The mentor cannot become too attached to outcomes in the mentee’s life. The mentee should maintain mindfulness of the time that the mentor has available for the relationship. What I am talking about here is healthy boundaries. Some signs that boundaries are not set correctly are if the mentee calls the mentor at 6 am on a Sunday morning or the mentee feels that he or she cannot make even a minor decision without mentor approval. On the mentor side- signs that the relationship needs to be recalibrated are: The mentor, become emotional (upset, angry, etc) if his or her mentee does not take advice or makes a mistake or the mentor worries excessively about the mentee. So how can you carve out a healthy , mutually beneficial relationship with your mentor? I have created the following tips and ideas based on my own mentoring experience and my experiences with my own mentors (Just so you know, still maintain relationships with most of my current and past mentors and mentees).
First ask yourself- What do you want to get out of the relationship? If you really need or desire someone’s devoted attention to reach a big goal (launch a business, change careers, etc), you will likely want to consider hiring a mentor. If you want assistance moving up the ladder or general ideas and you can be very patient about the time that your mentor has for you- you probably are fine with a volunteer mentor (someone you might find while networking or someone you work with currently or in the past). If you hire someone, you will work out some kind of written agreement with time and payments clearly delineated. If you have a professional person who has taken you under their wing- your time together will be more informal and not as structured.
In either case, you will have the best experience if you think about what you want. Are you looking for marketing, financial, hiring , product development ideas, etc? Or are you thinking more about personal development- time management, organizational skills, work life balance, relationship building, etc. You will probably think of a few things I have not mentioned, too. The point is to think about this and reevaluate occasionally.
What are the mentor’s expectations? You do not need to be a mindreader. Ask your mentor what the expectations are. As a mentor, with my paid clients or anyone I take under my wing, I expect timeliness for appointments, any homework or research to be completed, and I expect an open and flexible attitude. I expect a willingness to change and grow. Think about this: If you already know everything, why do you need a mentor?
Communication needs to be professional. Keep in mind mentors often run a business, a division, or hold leadership positions where there are time and resource demands. Stay within your time guidelines- so if you have an hour appointment- stick to that- unless your mentor seems to want to prolong the conversation (yes, some appointments do run over and that is okay occasionally, but if you find yourself asking another question just as the conversation is ending- are you really being respectful and mindful?).
Answer all emails from your mentor. When you send an email- keep it short and try to stick to one main idea. If you send a 600 word email- you will have to wait longer for an answer. You might be an evening person and your mentor might be a morning person or vice versa. So you could send an email at night and not get a response back until the next day- or longer. My goal is to respond to emails within 24-48 hours. If you send an email over the weekend- it might take longer to get a response. Only ask questions when you cannot get the answer yourself. If you send a series of questions where the answer could be found in 10 seconds on google- you are not asking your mentor the right questions. Avoid asking your mentor questions when he or she has already answered them. e.g- your mentor send you a list of tools and you ask for the tools link three times. (Hint- search your email). Find some way to file all of your email from your mentor- maybe even create a Word document- called Mentor Ideas and Resources. Have a clear subject title in your email- not “hello” . An example of a clear subject title might be- “Ideas for my blog- need feedback”. Be really clear about dates- for instance- if you want feedback on something let your mentor know when you need it- not a good idea to put anything less than 48 hours. That way- if your mentor cannot give you feedback in that amount of time- he or she can let you know.
Try New Ideas
A mentor pet peeve is when guidance or suggestions are given and the response back is full of excuses or why the guidance won’t work. These tactics are examples that are often based in fear or ego. If you have a fear, bring it forward. Again, why do you have a mentor if you aren’t willing to try anything new? This is not to say that you implement all mentor suggestions. Just put some thought into whether or not you really could implements some new ideas.
Track your progress
As you work with your mentor- keep a journal or notebook where you can jot down ideas and track your progress. If you hired your mentor to help you launch a business how close are you? If you hired a mentor to help you grow your business- what progress have you made? It is easy to forget. If you had zero online presence and you now have a blog or website, are set up on social media, and have held virtual events-you have made huge progress. If you honestly see that you are not moving forward- talk to you mentor. Maybe you can brainstorm some new ideas or directions.
Another good question is- When does the relationship end? In the best of circumstances- the mentor relationship goes through transitions where you might lessen the frequency of contact, then move to more of a colleague relationship. Sometimes the relationship ends more abruptly. If you strive for great communication throughout your relationship with your mentor- you most likely will have smooth transitions.
Having a mentor is truly for people who want to make that quantum leap forward. If you truly feel content and are not looking for change or growth- the mentor relationship is probably not for you. If you are ready to make your move, establishing a relationship with mentor could be a key to your success.