Home > Personal Development, Working with People > The Why’s and How’s of Mentorship

The Why’s and How’s of Mentorship

I was asked the other day if I had some thoughts behind setting up a mentor/mentee relationship.  What a great question!!!  While I don’t have the “Manifesto” for Mentorship I do have a few thoughts around the topic that I thought would be worth putting in this blog.

I’ve always loved the idea of having (and being a mentor).  When done right, both experiences can be rewarding.

What’s The Value of Having a Mentor?

Having a teacher (aka – mentor) to help guide and push you is a remarkable way to increase the speed and quality of your learning journey.    You typically look for mentors because they know something that you don’t, or you can gain wisdom that you don’t get in any course or book.  Mentors can be great sounding boards and motivators.  And depending on mentor/mentee relationship, they can (and should) hold you accountable for reaching your goals and objectives.

What’s In It for Mentors? 

Being a mentor is a very rewarding experience.  It’s an opportunity to be a teacher and coach.  And as a mentor, you can depart with the wisdom and knowledge that have been gained over the years.  It also forces you to really think about and understand what it takes to Lead and manage.  And to pass along a legacy and see others grow can be worth millions, especially when it’s successful, and you have an enthusiastic mentee. 

In order to set-up an effective mentorship, you need to define your objectives, identify a mentor, establish the formality of the mentorship, and follow through on execution of your plan with your new-found mentor.

Defining your objective(s)

Before embarking on your mission to find a mentor, you first need to define your objective(s) of having a mentor.  What exactly are you looking for out of this type of relationship?  As your first step, you should take out a piece of paper and write a purpose statement of what you specifically want to get out of the relationship. 

For example, I have a mentor who is about one organization levels above me.  He basically has a job path similar to mine.  However, he is a few years ahead of me in getting there.  My purpose was to understand the experiences he is having today, and learn how to get where he is at today.  I have found that our conversations have focused around strategic planning (1 to 5 years out), performance management, leadership, all the way to managing budgets and contracts.

By having some clarity on what you are trying to achieve, you will allow yourself to visualize what it is you really want.  This exercise will also help you identify who may be the right mentor for you.  Most importantly, when you have identified a mentor, and have approached him or her, they will have a clear idea of how to focus their conversations.  This will allow you to spend the bulk of your time with your mentor on the areas that you care most about.   The last thing you want to do is have a mentor that you respect for their sales techniques, spending all of their time talking about something other than sales.

Take a moment and write down your purpose statement and objective for having a mentor.

Types of Mentorships

Mentorships can be either formal or informal, depending on your objectives and the level of commitment you each want.  Informal mentors are people you may look up to or desire to learn specific competencies.  You may or may not have a well-defined relationship.  Perhaps you grab lunch every now and then, and ask them questions about whatever you are interested in.  This is a great way to get information and access to knowledge or their network.  However, informal mentorships lack two key attributes: commitment and accountability.  There is no commitment or accountability between yourself of your mentor.

On the other hand, formal mentorships require a higher level of commitment and accountability by both the mentor and mentee.  Essentially, when you ask for a formal mentor, you are asking for a commitment for someone to be a coach and guide.  That’s a big deal!  It takes time and thought on everyone’s part.  As a result, you (as a mentee) need to be equally committed. 

As mentioned above, mentors are great sounding boards and motivators (either formal or informal).  However, formal mentors also bring a level of accountability that often accelerates the learning process.  Often without the accountability, we tend to let things slide.  When having a formal mentor, you set specific goals, then follow-up dates to monitor progress towards achieving those goals.   Having the formal mentor works well because it is something that we are familiar with.  It’s like school, except instead of the teacher that we are accountable to; we are now accountable to the mentor.  By having a mentor holding you accountable, you have someone who is going to be there to ask why you weren’t able to complete a task.  They can be there to question whether you are really committed to these goals. 

However, what makes mentoring different from being a parent or high-school teacher is there is no obligation on the mentor’s part.  If you are not fulfilling your obligations to be a good mentee, then you may find them walking away.

How do you select a Mentor?

There are many places to find potential mentors.  Some companies create mentoring programs between employees within their company, while other companies foster mentor programs between themselves and other companies.  Regardless of whether your company sponsors a mentorship program or not, I highly suggest finding a mentor one way or another.

A second way to find a mentor is through your network.  Friends, family, and colleagues often know of people who may be in an area of interest that lines up with yours.  They may know someone who would be a good mentor for you.  You never know until you ask. 

For me personally, I find having a mentor outside my immediate area is best.  Having your boss act as a mentor may cause a conflict of interest.  Especially, as your skills begin to outgrow your current job.  Your boss maybe a good coach, but I would not call them a “true” mentor.  When I think of a mentor, I think of a long-term guide, as well as a coach.

As a side note, I do not recommend family members as formal mentors.  This can become difficult if one group doesn’t hold to their end of the deal.  I also find that non-family members will be a bit more honest, especially in providing critical feedback.  However, I do encourage you to look to your family for support and guidance.  It is always nice to have someone on your side.

When looking for a mentor, you may find it easier to begin a mentor/mentee relationship on a more informal basis.  As you establish your relationship, you can shift to a more formal mentorship.  However, you should communicate your intention to shift to a more formal mentorship when you are ready.  This will ensure your mentor understands what you are expecting and if he is willing to sign-up for the task.

What to Look For in a Mentor

When identifying the right mentor for you, look for the following qualities:

  1. Do they have an area of expertise that you admire them for?
  2. Can they provide you the right perspective to grow?
  3. Will they hold you accountable and give quality feedback?
  4. Will they push you?
  5. Do they have knowledge and experience that you could not pick-up from a book or class?
So you’ve got a mentor. . Now what?

Once you have a willing and able mentor, you should discuss and agree on how formal you want the relationship to be.  Regardless of formality, you should have a purpose and objective for each meeting.  It may be to ask questions, provide a progress report to your goals, or to help with a particular issue or situation.  Format and formality of a mentorship relationship can vary greatly.  Do what is comfortable for both.

Below is a sample of meeting agendas for a more formal mentorship: 

Meeting #1 Agenda:

  • Agree on purpose and objectives
  • Determine frequency of regular meetings
  • Discuss strengths and weaknesses in relation to the objective(s)
  • Discuss goals to help reach objective(s)


Meeting #2 Agenda:

  • Review goals and measures (completed by mentee)
  • Set dates to meet goals
  • Open discussion

 Ongoing Meeting Agenda:

  • Review progress against goals
  • Review any issues or questions
  • Open Discussion

 There are a few other items of note to discuss with your mentor.  You should determine the best way to communicate between meetings as issues or questions come up.  You may find that a mentor prefers to work by email or by phone.  In order to be respectful of your mentor’s time, I suggest bundling questions instead of contacting for each question as it comes up.  I also suggest sending out meeting agendas ahead of time in order to adequately allow your mentor to prepare.  Your mentor may even want to cover certain topics and add them to your agenda.  Again, this all depends on how much you want to formalize the relationship.  In addition, applying this rigor allows you both to make the best use of your time together.

A word of caution!  Don’t get so focused on the formality and sticking to the agenda, that you forget this is a growing opportunity.  Take time for small talk.  Take time to ask lots of questions!  Simply, by getting exposure to your mentor, you will learn a lot.  You will also find that the mentor/mentee relationship is dynamic.  As you achieve your goals and your objectives change, you may find that the mentor/mentee relationship may change.  As life events happen, you may find that the relationship ebbs and flows between formal and informal.  That’s OK.  Make sure that you are communicating and agreeing to how that structure changes.  Remember this relationship should be a win-win for both of you.

As with anything, what you get is what you give.  A mentorship is as successful as both the mentor and mentee make it.  Most mentorships tend to fail due to: lack of commitment; lack of a clear objective(s); poor communication; and poor follow-through.

If you have never had a mentor before, I would suggest just starting with only one.  Over time, you will probably move from having one mentor, to having multiple mentors, or what I call an “inner circle.”

Either way, having a guide and mentor to help you in your journey can help you grow in leaps and bounds.  You can often gain more insight and knowledge from a mentor that you could never glean from a book or course.  Now that you know, I encourage you to start your learning leap and find a mentor that suits your needs.


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