Getting the most out of mentorship – The mentee

The Mentorship Challenge, with Marc Wainer connects people across geographical, cultural and industrial boundaries. And this is all thanks to the time, talent and wisdom of the mentors featured on the show and online. We wanted to unpack their insights more fully than the television show allows. Because ultimately, it’s all about the meetings, moments, milestones – and mistakes! – that led them to the leaders they are today.

First up, this is what mentorship is NOT:

  • A one-way street
  • A checklist or tick box
  • A handout for financial support
  • An armchair experience
  • A short cut or quick fix
  • A power play

It is a relationship – and, if all goes well, a lifelong one at that!

Mentorship made easy? Here are some useful tips to build that relationship:

1. Get personal

Get to know your mentor first, before you even engage on matters of business. Mentoring is a deeply personal journey, and has the promise of a profound relationship, so establish the trust and grow the bond early on. This will set the tone and make way for honest and direct communication going forward.

2. Put your heart into it, right from the start

Being a mentee requires commitment and dedication: of your time, your energy, your ideas, your preparedness and self-discipline. It also requires a healthy dose of honesty and openness. So, start with being sincere, open and receptive.

3. Be an active partner, not a passive presence

Don’t hang on to your mentor’s every word and look to them for every thought, decision and action. That’s not mentorship. Find your own answers and determine your own destiny. Your mentor is just the guide who gently nudges you when you need it.

4. Don’t be afraid to disagree, but do find common ground

You may be worlds apart in your thinking, and that may make for robust debate and real discovery: we often do best when we are challenged. But the aim is to find the middle ground, and common ground – and build from there.

5. Find your voice and speak your truth, even if it doesn’t align with your mentor’s

Mentorship is always a dialogue. You may feel a little overwhelmed and tongue-tied in your mentor’s presence, but it’s up to you to carve out a safe space where you can speak. Also, ditch your prejudices and assumptions; you may be pleasantly surprised.

6. Be fully present and be prepared

If you come to your meetings unprepared and disengaged, your mentor will soon sense this, and withdraw. Value and make the most of your time together.

7. Respect you mentor’s time

Your mentor has taken time out of their busy schedule to share their wisdom and experience with you, so respect that generosity and don’t waste time in your sessions together. And if you need to cancel or reschedule a session, be sure to give them plenty of notice.

8. Co-create a mentoring contract

Set the ground rules, code of conduct, boundaries, timelines and expectations right from the start. Clarity goes hand in hand with commitment.

9. Find and set clear and attainable goals

Work out what you want to achieve – even if, at this stage, it’s just a dream – and think about how your mentor can support you in reaching that goal. From the start, you need to be clear on this, otherwise your mentor will soon be frustrated by your lack of focus – after all, it’s not their job to determine your goals. You need to understand your ‘why’ – why are you embarking on this mentoring journey and what do you hope to achieve together?

10. Agree on what success looks like

Establish your mutual understanding of the metric for success – is it personal growth, professional excellence, purpose-driven or profit-propelled? Define what you both understand by the word ‘success’.

11. Don’t be a clone. Don’t be a copycat

Mentorship is not about finding a mirror – it’s about finding the magic in the differences and distances between you and your mentor. That may just be where the real learning lies.

12. Strive for independence and decision-making

If your mentor is doing all the work, it just isn’t working. Find the courage within yourself to take decisions – and action. Remember, it’s their job to give you support, but not direction – that’s up to you.

13. Be the problem-solver

It’s not your mentor’s responsibility to come up with the solutions. That’s your job. But they can introduce you to the power of critical thinking.

14. Find and unlock potential, together

As a leader, this is probably one of your mentor’s greatest superpowers: seeing and developing potential in others – and it’s also the hallmark of a great mentor. But you have to be willing to work hard at finding your own superpower/s.

15. Embrace the power of mentorship so that you may become a future mentor

There’s nothing more rewarding than gaining from the wisdom of your mentor – and then proliferating that learning for the greater good. Gain all the skills you need, and then share what you have learnt from your mentor with others.

16. Don’t abuse the relationship

There’s an uneven power dispensation at work in the relationship, by virtue of your mentor’s vast experience and expertise. Don’t take advantage of the relationship. Never solicit money or favours from your mentor.

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