Getting the most from a mentoring relationship – How to make your mentor’s job easier and more productive


We marked the passing of 2014 this past week and, as is common at the turn of the calendar, I engaged in a retrospective look at just what life has brought to me thus far. I remember way back in the fog of yesterday just how tentative and  uncertain everything seemed when I first began my career. What would I do? Where would I do it? What was really required to succeed?

Fortunately, I found mentors very early on who were…and are…deeply invested in helping me. Mentors are those people who have broken trail before us and are willing to show us the way. Mentoring relationships are among the most valuable and worthwhile relationships you can ever cultivate.  A mentor is someone who is farther along than you are and is willing and able to impart to you what they have learned and experienced. The mentoring relationship may be free of charge but the results are priceless.

Therefore, mentoring relationships should be held in high regard and treated with utmost respect. Here are six key facts to remember:

  1. No one owes you anything. Mentoring relationships are neither mandatory nor obligatory. Don’t even think of trying to get someone to mentor you by making them feel that they owe it to you. It is indeed a mutual relationship and, done well, both you and your mentor will benefit. Being grateful and appreciative sets the tone for a fruitful relationship.
  2. Ask for help. No one is under any obligation to go looking for you. You should, however, go find them. You’re busy but the people who can help you along are probably busier than you are. They might be willing to mentor but they won’t always be looking for more to do. Plus, even when asked they are not foolish. They will determine if you are a promising candidate. Further, the scope and depth of a mentoring relationship is always determined by you, not the mentor. You are the active party in that you decide how much help you want and how long you want it.
  3. Show up and show up on time with all assignments done. Mentoring relationships are more than talk. There will be regular meetings either in person or online. Act like it is important to you if you want your mentor to treat it the same way. If you’re attentive, responsive, and engaged, the mentor will be too. Do not expect your mentor to make you do anything. This is a voluntary and cooperative relationship, not a compulsory one.
  4. Communicate. This ties in with number 3. Answer their emails, respond to their phone calls, answer their questions. Open up and be forthcoming. The more open you are the faster progress you’ll make.
  5. Be honest. Don’t even think about trying to fool the mentor. They didn’t get to be successful by being gullible or naïve. What’s more, the relationship will end the second or third time you are discovered to be dishonest. The mentor will probably be forbearing about the first infraction, but never confuse their forbearance with indifference. Never.
  6. Be compliant and cooperative. Do what they ask you to do without quibbling. For a few years way back when, I was a marriage and family counselor. One husband seemed to think that our counseling sessions were classes, that I was a lecturer and our sessions were times to debate concepts. He wanted to discourse and debate at length every prescription I offered to fix his broken relationship. Finally, after several weeks of this (and I want to be clear that he was paying my fee for each counseling session), I broke it off. I told him, “This is the last time I will meet with you and your wife.”

“Why?” he objected.

“Because,” I replied, “you argue with everything I tell you to do.”

Incredibly, do you know what he said?

He said, “No I don’t.”

“You’re doing it now” I challenged.

“No I’m not,” he insisted.

The mentoring relationship should be compelling for your and your mentor. They can never be compulsory.

I am a richer man today because of what mentors have given to me. You can be, too.


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