- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
Whether you’re a new employee starting your working life or a veteran of the workplace who’s just transitioned to a new field, finding a mentor is one of the most important things you can do to foster your success. Once you’ve met with someone who’s shown an interest in helping you to succeed in your new career, there are a number of things that you, as a mentee, can do to ensure that you get the most out of the relationship.
UNDERSTANDING THE RELATIONSHIP
The mentor-mentee relationship is a mutualistic one. It flows in two directions. While you’re benefiting from your mentor’s advice and experience, you’re providing them with benefits as well. Not only does your relationship help them build the next generation of effective workers, but it also allows them to give back to the company and community around it.
But even though you both contribute to this relationship, the onus is on you as the mentee to move it forward. It’s your responsibility to reach out to them to set meeting times and agendas. Your mentor likely has a lot of other things going on. While they’ve invested in your success, setting up meetings with you isn’t necessarily at the top of their to-do list.
If you aren’t proactive with your mentor by scheduling meetings and sending the occasional, brief check-in, you’re sending the message that you aren’t interested in what they can offer you. But there is a balance to be struck here, as well — it’s definitely possible to be too present in your mentor’s life.
Remember that your mentor is giving up their time to help guide you through the specifics of the workplace and the industry it operates in. It’s a good idea to respect this sacrifice of time and avoid falling into the “energy vampire” trap.
Don’t pepper your mentor with easy questions that you could research on your own or flood them with excessive, long-winded emails or chat requests. In such settings, it’s prudent to ask questions that can easily be answered with a yes or no. Larger concerns are best saved for your in-person meetings.
Your mentor’s time is valuable — both to them and to you — so carefully consider how to use it. This thoughtfulness will go a long way towards building a successful relationship.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR NEEDS … AND ACTING ON THEM
Great mentees know what sort of help or advice they’re looking for from their mentor. Do you want to build up your network, or are you looking for answers to specific questions about the workplace or industry? Do you TK? It’s a good idea to define what these are early in the relationship.
In fact, it’s a good idea to bring a list of clear objectives and goals to every meeting. Mentors are drawn to self-starters, those employees who aren’t afraid to do a little research and come prepared with challenging questions or innovative ideas.
At the same time, it’s important to understand your mentor’s needs as well. What are they hoping to get out of their relationship with you? Yes, they’re in this to help you, but what can you do to help them attain their goals? It’s critical for you to look for ways to add value to your mentor’s life above and beyond the value they’re getting from being your mentor.
Once your mentor gives you advice, it’s best to act on it quickly. Keep your mentor updated with regular progress reports with the tasks they’ve assigned you. This progress reporting helps to TK the relationship with your mentor. It tells them that the person they’ve chosen to help is interested in learning and not wasting the mentor’s time.
However, if you don’t agree with the advice, that’s okay. Most mentors don’t want the person they’re helping to be a “yes person.” It’s okay to disagree and push back but do so respectfully and without anger or argument. Ask questions to help understand their point of view or take time to explain your own to them.
But above all, strike to approach the relationship with a positive attitude.
One of the biggest aspects of being a great mentee is the ability to accept feedback about their work. Being coachable in this manner shows a sign of maturity and willingness to learn. Mentees who get defensive and argue with their mentor over constructive feedback aren’t serving the relationship and can make the mentor feel energy drained.
Avoid complaining, especially about fellow workers or clients. This sort of negative approach sends signals to the mentor that you aren’t worth their time.
But that’s not to say you shouldn’t avoid your mentor when things go wrong. Nothing ever goes perfectly every time, so problems are an unavoidable aspect of the workplace. If you do find yourself in a difficult situation, don’t avoid your mentor out of fear or embarrassment. It’s best to address such problems head-on.
Use these situations, however uncomfortable they might be, as opportunities for growth. Engage with your mentor and be forthright about any missteps you may have taken. Analyze where things went wrong, then offer up different potential solutions. Most mentors appreciate creative thinking and respect mentees who can admit they made a mistake.
Your mentor wants to help you to succeed. Don’t sabotage their help with acrimony or subterfuge.
Instead, coming to work with enthusiasm and positive energy will pay dividends. Mentors enjoy working with engaged mentees. An employee who approaches their work positively and enthusiastically are more likely to attract good mentors who will happily spend some of their time to foster a mentee’s success.
Being a mentee can be a rewarding and educational experience. But it requires more than just finding a willing participant and showing up. While both the mentor and the mentee contribute to the success of the relationship, it’s the mentee who really drives it. With a little thought and some drive, it’s not hard to become a great mentee, and that can go a long way to your personal success.
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Thought leaders & celebrities share their tactics for success on the Lisnic podcast by Lisa Teh & Nick Bell