Being in a relationship with a mentor is an honor and encourages feelings of gratitude and appreciation. The mentee has the responsibility of structuring a successful mentoring relationship, making requests of the mentor, acknowledging and receiving the mentor’s offers, and creating intentionality in the outcomes of the relationship.
Before your first conversation with a potential mentor, be prepared to offer your thoughts to the following questions:
- What is your goal?
- Over what timeframe?
- Why is that important?
- What difference will be noted and by whom?
- Are you looking for enhanced subject matter expertise, to evolve your leadership presence, or both?
Regardless of whether a mentor makes an offer or you make a request, the outcome of success in the relationship is incumbent on the mentee.
Make Two Lists
1. Assess your environment and make a list of masterful people in the domain in which you want to become an expert, such as finance, balance-sheet management, liquidity management, cyber security, or branding.
2. The second list includes individuals who have a certain quality of presence that you find appealing. How do you describe their presence? When they speak, why do others listen? When you are in their presence, what do you notice about yourself?
In creating your list of potential mentors, be sure to do a 360 and include peers and direct reports to you or your peers. Look up and over and down and over on the organization chart; a senior leader in another functional area may be well suited as a mentor, as might be a direct report to a current peer.
It is possible that the people on the two lists are not the same, and that’s okay! It is perfectly plausible that a subject matter expert is not the best to mentor on quality of presence and vice versa.
Make the Request
Approach a potential mentor with a powerful request, including your specific needs and expectations in the relationship, including length of time. Describe your level of commitment, how you will now you are growing as a mentee, and why this particular mentor is important in your career path.
The most important component of the relationship is that you are sincere in creating, agreeing to, and fulfilling your relationship as a mentee. In a positive learning situation, there is a teacher and a student. The student accepts the teacher, follows his or her guidance, and acknowledges the teachers’ mastery through thoughts, words, and actions as a learner. The mentor will be appropriately challenging, and the mentee should not quit the moment the relationship requires unfamiliar rigor. Only through doing something new does learning happen.
There comes a day when you feel complete with the mentor as a teacher. Perhaps you need time for the learning to soak in; you should thus ask for a pause in the relationship with the possibility of returning for a check in later.
This article began by describing the mentor-mentee relationship as one of gratitude and appreciation. Honor your mentor through expressing appreciation for his or her attributes and becoming a mentor to others. In the fall of 2000, I met someone with a compelling presence as a teacher, coach, and mentor. His name was Richard Strozzi-Heckler, PhD. I studied with him for ten years and asked him to be my external reader for my dissertation. I still hear his voice every day in my professional and community work, as a parent, and in relationships. Although he is not my day-to-day mentor, he is my life teacher. Thank you, Richard.
Deedee Myers, Ph.D., MSC, PCC
DDJ Myers, Ltd.