What should I work on in my mentoring relationship?
Reading time: 4 minutes
It can be overwhelming to try to figure out what you want to gain from a mentoring relationship. It may even sometimes feel like that childhood question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When you have unlimited options, paralysis by analysis can kick in. As a result, it can be difficult to figure out what areas to focus on in a mentoring relationship, what goals you want to set, who the best person is to ask for help, and so on.
However, if you pull apart the overarching topic and think of it in smaller pieces, you can begin to see how all of the parts come together to form the larger view.
Here are five questions you should answer to help frame your thoughts.
What do I want to achieve?
This might still feel like a big question, but it can help you start thinking about why you are pursuing a mentoring relationship.
What is it that is driving you to find a mentor? Do you want a promotion? Do you want to get better at a new skill to improve in your current job role?
Do you want to learn about other areas of or functions within the company? Do you want to improve your sensitivity toward others or become a more ethical leader?
What is that big thing that makes you want to spend time mentoring?
Why is this important to me?
If you can’t explain why you are doing it, chances are you will not commit the time and energy needed for the relationship to be successful.
Having a clear picture of what you want to achieve through mentoring can help you plot the course to get there
Certainly, you think you will, and you may even do so at the beginning of the relationship. But then life happens. A project comes up at work and takes priority.
Or you are asked to take on some additional responsibilities at work and suddenly have less time in your day than anticipated.
Or your energy and excitement for the relationship wanes because you’re tired and only feel you have enough time in the day to do the bare essentials. It happens; you’re human.
To counter these possibilities, you need to have a clear picture of why a mentoring relationship is important to you, and you need to keep that front and center in your mind.
How can I make this happen?
Do you need one mentor who can guide you over a longer relationship and help shepherd you along the right path? Or could you use multiple mentors who work with you on various skills and goals?
Maybe you would find it helpful to be part of a mentoring group where you could learn from other mentees as well as the mentor leading the group.
You may not know right away what you want or need, but knowing that you have options can be useful.
For example, you could start with a single mentoring relationship with a one-to-one mentor, and then consider looking for a group later to help you work on skills that you identify as need areas (perhaps ones where your mentor is not an expert and therefore you need additional assistance).
Who can help me reach my goal?
Do you already have a mentor in mind (a specific person), or do you have an idea of the type of person you want to find (eg, a person with a specific skill set or who has certain experiences)?
Do you need help figuring out who to ask to be your mentor? Do you know how you would approach this individual?
A growing number of organisations use mentoring software to help employees find suitable mentors. You could take advantage of that process or even ask your mentoring programme administrator to make the match for you.
If you don’t have access to mentoring software, you will need to do more hands-on networking and personalised outreach to ask your potential match to be your mentor.
What result do I want from this particular mentoring relationship?
This question is different from the earlier question about what you want to achieve. This question specifically focuses on what you want your chosen mentor to help you with.
Your overarching goal may be fairly broad, and you may need multiple mentors to help you achieve it.
It’s highly unlikely that there is one person out there who can be your be-all-end-all when it comes to mentors.
The more likely scenario is that this particular person can help you with a finite set of goals. This is not only acceptable and expected, but also reasonable.
Once you’ve figured out who you want your mentor to be, you should also be able to clearly articulate what you want them to help you accomplish.
A good mentoring relationship can result in a mentee reaching or exceeding their goals, finding out new areas of their own talent or skill that they may not have realised were possible, seeing a positive impact made on their day-to-day-work and longer-term career because of mentoring, and finding a mentor who inspires and pushes them.
Having a clear picture of what you want to achieve through mentoring can help you plot the course to get there.
About the author
Laura Francis is chief knowledge officer at River.