Mentoring Basics: Part 3(a)

The time has come!  It’s time to start a mentoring relationship with a mentee.  This is a critical step in the mentor/mentee relationship process.  It sets the tone for all that is to come.

But how do you start?  What do you need to do as a potential mentor?

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series we defined mentoring and discussed some of the different types of mentorship.  This should serve as a base for you to make decisions from in this next stage.

As discussed in Part 2, the key factor of TIME should be addressed first and foremost.  How much time do you have to devote to the development of another?    If you agree to a mentorship, but don’t have the time you’ll likely do a serious disservice to yourself and to your mentee.  The impacts of a poor decision are many; starting with your reputation as a mentor.

In addition to understanding how much time you have to commit, having good self-awareness and knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is very important for would-be mentors so that when the “will you be my mentor” question comes (and it will come) you are prepared to assess and answer.

In writing this portion of the article, I found that there was lots of rich information to share, but when I put it all together it was rather long.  So, in the interest of not creating the longest blog post ever, I have decided to break Part 3 in to three separate posts.  This will make the overall series longer, but I think will make it much easier to digest.

Three Basic Steps

Starting a mentoring relationship has three basic steps that should be considered.  This isn’t a “be all and end all” list, but definitely is a great start as you are examining a potential relationship.  These steps can be broken down as follows:

  • Relationship Initiation
  • Honest Assessment
  • Setting Expectations

In this post, we will tackle Step 1: Relationship Initiation.

Relationship Initiation

A mentoring relationship can start a variety of ways.  You may be assigned an official mentee through a formal program, you may ask someone to be your mentee, or more often than not, someone is going to ask you to be their mentor.

If someone asked you that question right now, how would you answer? 

Hopefully you won’t default to that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.  And I also hope that you won’t respond with an immediate ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Think about this for a second.  Someone (most likely junior to you) has mustered their courage to tell you that they admire you as a leader and are asking you to develop them all the while knowing that you may reject them at any second.  And no one likes to be rejected.

So, HOW you answer this question is just as important as the mentorship itself and must be handled delicately and with thought.

Many novice would-be mentors think that they have to provide an immediate answer, but this simply isn’t the case.  A thoughtful answer is much better received than a hasty one.

My response here is typically not ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  It usually is, “If you don’t mind, let me ask you a couple questions before I answer.”  Then I proceed to ask questions similar to the following:

  • What are you looking for in a mentor?
  • What do you hope to accomplish/learn?
  • Why me?

Why ask the questions?  It pauses the need for an immediate response, changes the dynamics a bit, gives me time to think and assess, and allows me to draw out more information from which I can make an informed decision.

If I don’t know the person very well, I may also ask them to tell me more about who they are, their situation, and their goals/aspirations.

The art of listening is critical here.  Listen for what their true need is.  It may require follow on questions to get to the root issue, instead of what may be presented initially.  Use open ended questions.  Don’t be afraid to dig here, because it will set the foundation for your decision and for the mentorship.  Plus, it gives you an opportunity to determine how forthcoming and receptive to suggestion your potential mentee really is.

This line of questioning works more for situations where someone wants to establish a mentoring relationship (official or casual); as compared to someone that just has an infrequent development or perspective question.  Although, listening and asking good clarifying questions may be important in the latter too.

Gaining clarification of what the potential mentee is really looking for is critical so that you can properly assess whether or not you would be a suitable mentor.

Even if you know immediately that you don’t want to mentor this person, taking the time to ask the questions shows thoughtfulness and consideration.  Even if the answer is ultimately ‘no’, the feeling of rejection may be mitigated somewhat because you have been thoughtful and you have acknowledged them and their need.

But don’t make your decision just yet!  Now that you have the information, you need to assess it.

Honest assessment will be the focus of the next post.




2 Responses to Mentoring Basics: Part 3(a)

  1. Pingback: Mentoring Basics: Part 3(b) « The Leader's Locker

  2. Pingback: Mentoring Basics: Part 3(c) « The Leader's Locker

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