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So you’ve decided that you want a mentor and you have several people in your sights! You’ve approached one who has agreed to meet with you next week, so you’re home free: you’ve found a mentor!
Not so fast! You may have found a mentor, and she might be willing to take the lead, but why get lazy now? Your first meeting is your opportunity to show your (potential) mentor that you are serious about your development and you’ve already put some work into making the relationship a good one for both of you.
The most effective mentoring relationships have these things in common:
2. Structure & Expectations
3. Follow-up and Follow-through
4. Skills awareness
Of course you have Goals, but have you written them? Have you thought beyond the broadest, most obvious outcomes? For example, “to become a confident speaker” is a great long-term goal, and many people may be willing to help you. But consider this: why did you select the particular person you approached? What–specifically–about her speaking made her your choice? What pieces of “a confident speaker” made you select this person at this time?
Is it the way she tells a story? Is it how her body language conveys “I know my stuff”? Is it the little humorous bits that keep the message light? Get specific about what you want to learn, and your mentor will be able to hone in on “how-tos” that make the best use of your time together!
Structure and expectations means that you’ve given thought to the details of your mentoring arrangement so your mentor doesn’t have to! Think about how long it may take you to learn what you’re seeking; consider the kind of commitment you’re asking from your mentor; ask yourself if it’s a reasonable commitment for the mentor’s schedule. And, then consider the kind of meeting options that may make sense. Coffee? Lunch? Phone calls between meetings? Weekly email check-ins?
Follow-up and follow-through means taking the initiative to keep the relationship sound for both of you. Maybe you drop an email after a meeting to put your next steps in writing and to say “thanks”–even though you said it in person. You can send an outlook or meeting scheduling note so that your next meeting/coffee/telephone call gets on your mentor’s schedule. You might send a note the week prior to your scheduled meeting with a list of the agenda items you’d like to discuss–this serves as a scheduling reminder, too. If you see your mentor mentioned in a story on community leaders, you might drop her a note saying Congratulations! or (if it’s in print) clip the story and send to her–yes, via snail mail! All of these thoughtful items tend to the relationship and help avoid misunderstandings. Bottom line: stay in touch!
Skills awareness is a reminder to use and sharpen those skills most helpful in building a strong mentoring relationship: listening, querying, attending and feedback–giving and receiving. Handle distractions before you meet; turn your cell phone off, or, if you are awaiting a critical call, tell your mentor before you begin. Ask questions that start with “what” or “how” since both provide opportunity for expanding learning. Talk about follow- through you’ve completed and request suggestions for improvement: “How might I approach this next time?” ” How could I do this differently?” Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership guru, calls this feed-forward rather than feed-back. When you use it often, it becomes a comfortable way to explore options without the worry associated with “feedback.”
Being a thoughtful protege–one willing to do her homework and make it easy for a mentor to say ‘yes’–is the best way to have lots of mentors as you go through your career. You can establish relationships that work for you both…where you can learn from each other.
Have a question or wondering about being or recruiting a mentor? Leave it in the comment area: if you’re wondering, someone else is, too!