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Today's Challenge: Making Mentoring Work

Virtually every week, I respond to a question submitted by a reader. I call the series, Today’s Challenge. If you’re interested in past questions, and my responses, I’ve created a category on the sidebar to help you. Today’s question is: How do you make mentoring work?

I am not an expert on mentoring. However, I’ve been on both ends of mentoring relationships for decades. Therefore, I’ll share a few thoughts, not as an expert, rather, as a fellow traveler, who’s also attempting to make the most of mentoring opportunities.
Select a mentor based on what you want to learn. If you wanted to learn a foreign language, you’d probably select someone who is fluent in the language you want to learn. Select a mentor based on their depth of knowledge and expertise in the arena you are exploring.
Set the schedule in advance. Will you be meeting once a month? Once a quarter? By phone? In person? If at all possible, agree on this and put the dates on the calendar. If something has to change, change it. However, failure to schedule these meetings will reduce the number of times you’ll actually meet.
Share your expectations and goals in the beginning. This is foundational. A conversation on these items will allow both parties to calibrate and adjust as needed.
Share your stories early. Personal history matters. If you learn that your mentor has additional expertise beyond what you already knew about, this is a bonus. Perhaps it will give you more topics to explore. As the mentee shares his/her story, the mentor may gain insight into resources or approaches that may prove helpful as the relationship continues.
Let the mentee set the agenda. Although the mentor almost always grows as a result of the relationship with the mentee, the focus should always be on the mentee. He or she should establish the priorities for your time together.
Ask great questions. The better the questions, the better the outcome. This is true for both the mentor and mentee. This is why preparation matters. See the next item.
Send your agenda/questions to your mentor 48 hours in advance. The benefit of preparing for the session in advance is two-fold. One, it forces the mentee to prioritize their goals and objectives. You can’t talk about everything in each meeting. Creating an agenda is a forcing mechanism. The second benefit – it allows the mentor to be better prepared.
Take copious notes. Don’t rely on your memory. You may not have access to this person forever. Also, you never know what you may capture in your notes that could serve you at a later date.
Agree on the length of the commitment. Will you meet for 90 days? Six months? Is this a year-long commitment? If you find value, chemistry and willingness to extend beyond your original commitment, do it. Always give both parties an out by discussing the length of each extension.
Say thanks! Most men and women who mentor others do so because they enjoy the process of helping people grow. Few are paid for this activity. It can be a thankless role. Don’t take this relationship for granted - say “thank you” to your mentors.
Have you had mentors in the past who deserve a “thank you?” Write them a note or give them call. You’ll be glad you did.

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SGT Steven L. Drake

8 years ago

Good morning Mark;
Mentoring may be a relatively new term to the business world, but it's mandates have been around for centuries. Jesus Christ stated he was a, "fisher of men". It is our responsibility as humans to reach out to our fellow man, to come along side them, to meet them where they are while helping them to get to where they want to be. I co-chair my organizations Mentor Committee. I believe with all my heart that an organizations success, or failure, often rest in their commitment, or lack of commitment to true mentoring. The foundation of Leadership is PEOPLE. If we don't identify, cultivate, and inspire future leaders our future is destined for mediocrity. I appreciate your bullet points for identifying mentors. It's simple logical advice and an excellent way to increase the odds that the mentor/mentee relationship will be a positive one.
Kudo's to you Mark on your book, (The Secret of Teams), BRILLIANT.
In December of 2012 I was asked to assist in re-designing my departments Leadership Programs. After reading The Character-Based Leader-igniting a leadership revolution one person at a time, which you co-authored, and your book The Secret of Teams, I reached out to you in an attempt to learn from your team building concepts. You graciously extended an open invitation to visit your Corporate office in Atlanta Georgia to do just that. "And I thank you". As you can see things don't always move swiftly in our department. Soon, our leadership initiative will begin. I hope that your invitation still stands and if so look forward to meeting you, your staff, and becoming a better team builder.
Keep doing what you do Mark. We need more like yourself, Dan Rockwell, "who's become a great friend and mentor", John C. Maxwell, and the many others who willingly share your life experiences and insights to help others in their pursuit of leadership.
Respectfully yours
Steven L. Drake (SGT)
Pa Dept of Correction
Hostage Negotiator


8 years ago

Thanks for your kind comments! Yes, the invitation to visit our headquarters still stands. Keep doing what you're doing - everything rises and falls on leadership! Mark

Ranae Mogensen

8 years ago

Hi Mark,
You did a great job on this post for someone who "is not an expert on mentoring." You covered many of the check points we recommend for creating a successful mentoring relationship. I would add "Try not to get into the habit of canceling your appointments with your mentoree. We all get busy and our time is precious, but it sends a message to your mentoree that he/she is not important."
Thanks for the great post! We will be sharing with our #mentoring audience.


8 years ago

Thanks, Ranae, I agree. I don't like to cancel appointments with anyone, especially in a mentoring relationship. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark


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