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Career progression and managing relationship with a mentor


In my article Career progression and finding a mentor, I mentioned how to find a mentor. The next step is managing the relationship with the mentor. When I say managing I mean how the mentee can set up a proper working relationship with a mentor to get the maximum learning outcome. It is important to remember that this is an adult educational environment and different people have different learning / coaching styles. In what follows in the article, I have discussed some steps that will assist both the mentor and the mentee in set and manage a mentoring relationship.

What the mentee should do

Two key factors that will help you managing your relationship with your mentor are appreciation and taking ownership, the former is an appreciation of the fact that the mentor has agreed to coach / guide you, and the latter an ownership of the mentoring journey. If you follow the steps below you display to your mentor that you are a professional who takes your professional development seriously and you are someone a pleasure to deal with.

  • Start and finish with an appreciation: In your first meeting with your mentor, start by thanking them for having agreed to mentor you despite their busy schedule and mention it specifically that you are keen to learn from them. From the second session onwards, always start with common courtesy questions, e.g. ‘How has your day been so far?’ or ‘How does the week ahead look for you?’ Also at the end of a session appreciate them but slightly differently, e.g. ‘This session has really helped me the concept of process maps. I understand it better than how I understood before.’ In fine, let the mentor realise that you are grateful to them.

  • Ask questions about a plan: Also in your first meeting with your mentor ask them in a polite way, if you can clarify some questions, e.g.

    1. What will be the frequency of the meetings?

    2. How long will each session last?

    3. Does the mentor expect you to do some pre work before each meeting?

    4. How to manage a log of the learning activities?

    5. Is it possible to get a list of the topics your mentor will cover?

  • Post each mentoring session, clarify whether the mentor suggests you to do some additional studies or practice. This is an important step since this reinforces what you have learnt from your mentor.

  • Listen carefully: In my opinion, this is the most important part of being mentored. Listen carefully, do not interrupt in the middle of your mentor speaking.

  • Dress up neatly: Always wear attire appropriate for the occasion. If you are dressed up properly chances are high that your mentor will appreciate you.

  • Take notes: Always take notes, and on a good notebook. Not only will you be able to these notes at a later stage but also will it display your seriousness to your mentor. In addition, research suggests that when we take notes our brain works in a different way, much to our advantage.

  • Give the mentor a present: When you have finished your last session with your mentor it is a nice idea to present them with a Thank you card, and a pen or a nice diary or a book by their favourite author. Remember to keep the present to the professional level and not to buy something over the top, e.g. an expensive perfume or a watch.

What the mentor should do

To start with, thanks a lot for agreeing to mentor someone. Not everyone is generous enough to guide others in their professional development. Through mentoring you are giving your mentee some education that is likely to help them throughout their life. As I have explained in the previous section, each mentoring session is an adult educational activity and not a baby sitting session. Therefore, it is important to set up a rhythm. As an experienced professional it is highly likely that you understand this well. Here are some steps that, if followed, will make the mentoring easier for you:

  • Appreciate the mentee: Each individual is different in numerous ways. Everyone has their own way of learning and communicating. Assure the mentee that it is a safe space for upskilling and reinforce the fact that mentoring is not just about you guiding them, it is also about them taking responsibilities for their own development. Appreciate them for the fact that they have taken the initiative for their own development.

  • Ask questions to set up a plan: It is important that you have a plan for the mentoring session. If you already don’t have one, start asking questions to your mentee so you can both agree to a plan. The plan can include how many sessions you are going to have, when you’re meeting, how you’re meeting (face to face, virtual, or a combination of both).

  • Encourage to as questions: Some mentees might feel shy to ask questions. It is important that you encourage them to ask questions. You can also ask questions nicely to see if they have understood what you are trying to explain.

  • Encourage them to take notes: Always encourage mentees to take notes. It is beneficial not only for them but for you too. Note taking is likely to trigger their thought process in a positive way plus it is likely to save you some time, since with notes available a mentee is less likely to repeat the same questions.

  • If relevant, suggest additional learning: Wherever possible suggest them additional learning. It can be a book or a professional magazine or a video in YouTube. Not only will it enhance their learning, the mentee will also be grateful to you for showing a genuine interest in their development.

  • Ask common courtesy questions: It is always nice to ask common courtesy questions, e.g. ‘How has your day been so far?’ or ‘How does the week ahead look for you?’ This helps mentees in communicating with you in a positive way and in coming out if their shell (if the mentee by nature is a shy person).

  • Assign responsibility: From session one, make it clear to the mentee (in a nice way, of course!) that it is their responsibility to drive the sessions and you want them to gradually take the lead in the discussion.

It is important to remember that while there is no hard and fast rule for a mentor-mentee relationship, a structured approach will always help in achieving the best outcome.

I also recommend you to watch my video in the same title here.


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