Start From The Beginning: How To Prepare Early On To Have A Successful Mentor Relationship

By Esther Weinberg, Forbes

The one thing you need to know before starting any mentoring relationship is how to prepare to actually start it. You may think mentoring is simply two people chatting over coffee but it’s not. Before we talk about where to begin, let’s discuss why mentoring is one of the most important things you can do for your career.

The Benefits Of Mentorship

For starters, having a mentor can lead to higher rates of retention and promotion. According to one case study, mentees who participated in a mentorship program were five times more likely to advance in pay grade (mentors made even more progress) and mentees were promoted five times more than those not in the program (mentors six times more). Lastly, retention rates were significantly higher for mentees (72%) and for mentors (69%) than for employees who didn’t participate (49%).

A mentor provides wisdom and guidance, based on their experience and expertise. In a sense, the experience of the mentor becomes a case study for what’s possible for the mentee. While the mentor is a guide, the person receiving the mentoring — the mentee — helps guide the relationship because they are eager to grow and develop.

The mentoring relationship should be one of equals, based on trust and respect, and based on one person’s desire to grow and another person’s desire to help them do so. Healthy mentoring relationships foster an open and respectful environment where people feel safe to share, to grow and to express themselves.

The Five D’s Of Mentoring Preparation

In order to have a successful mentor relationship, I recommend both the mentor and mentee use what I call the “Five D’s.” These can be used to help define the overall mentoring relationship, as well as prepare for a specific meeting or session.

1. Determine your purpose.

Ask, “Why are we both here? Why is it important to each of us to be in a mentoring relationship?”

2. Design the overarching goals.

Setting goals is critical for both mentor and mentee in order to have a clear sense of what you’re going to be working on for the duration of the relationship. This will grow and evolve over time, so check in with each other every 90 days to make sure you’re still in alignment with these goals.

3. Decide on the learning.

A mentee may want help with enhancing their professional image, becoming more self-aware, strengthening their self-management or even developing a particular skill that the mentor possesses.

For example, if a mentee wishes to improve their visibility, one area that would be important to refine is their executive presence. A mentor may observe their mentee speaking more casually in meetings with certain key executives and suggest their mentee pay closer attention to tailoring their communication to meet specific audiences.

4. Declare your expectations.

Set a clear tone and be honest about what you both expect. Clarify expectations around the regularity of your meetings (more on that in a minute), confidentiality, and honesty. The two parties’ expectations might be different and you want to get that out in the open and both come away with an understanding of what you can expect of each other. Be mindful to share all of your expectations, not just some of them. Any relationship can go awry quickly when there are unexpressed expectations. Both the mentor and the mentee should plan to declare expectations in the first session.

5. Define the meeting structure.

Are you going to meet in person or over a video platform? How often? Where? Be mindful of the setting and ensure that it’s comfortable and conducive to communication.

In most cases, it’s helpful to have a written plan. I have a short list of standard questions that I call “The Six W’s.” These are great questions for the mentee to answer and send to the mentor before each meeting:

  • What have I accomplished since the last meeting?
  • What didn’t get done that I intended to do?
  • What are the challenges I’m facing now?
  • What are the opportunities available to me?
  • What’s the best way to utilize our mentoring meeting?
  • What are my action steps between now and our next meeting?

Having an agenda in advance of each meeting makes the mentoring session more productive and, in turn, the relationship more successful. If mentees are consistently documenting their preparation, they’re able to chart their own progress.

For mentors, this type of preparation gives them a heads-up on what the mentee wants to talk about, so you can prepare your responses and advice. It also helps them to see patterns and trends in what the mentee wants to learn and achieve as well as any areas they may be stuck on.

In closing, show up prepared and be intentional. Doing so gives your mentoring relationships the kind of context and expectation setting necessary to facilitate a successful relationship — one that could become one of the most significant relationships of your career.

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