Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Are you a user friendly mentee?

It is finally the day. Scenario 1 - The high-energy, well-educated, tech-savvy teammate is scheduled to meet with the senior leader she has wanted as a mentor. Scenario 2 – The dedicated, hardworking, proven performer is scheduled to meet with the senior leader he has sought as a mentor.

Both scenarios are important to the leader, but the needs of the mentee are likely very different. Having been in these different sessions back-to-back, I thought it might be a good idea for this forum to debate how to be a user-friendly mentee. Here are a couple of ideas:

• Send helpful advance information – resume and career development plan.
• Use your organization’s forms – performance reviews and development plans.
• Provide pre-meeting topic insight – an agenda or question is helpful
• Focus on “who” questions rather than “how” – as John Strelecky recommends.
• Categorize – let the mentor know where they might best help (Mentor strategy payoff).
• Follow-up – close the loop with the mentor on contacts and recommendations.
• Two way street – Mentees must teach the mentor an equal amount.
• On-going communication – short email updates work well.
• Don’t let it die – keep the relationship active or end it. Don’t let it die of inactivity.

Time is the most valuable resource a leader can provide. It is non-renewable. Mentees that use it well will gain the most and will most likely be invited back.

What successful mentor/mentee relationships have you experienced? What made them successful?


J Wong said...

I would say Mentees should be flexible. Mentors are usually Sr. Level people who have impacted schedules and meetings will need to be moved around, often. Mentees should take initiative to ensure the meetings happen on a regular basis and help the mentors understand how they can help you (this could mean technical training, helping to make networking connections with people or gaining an understanding about the organization and some of the politics that play out). Confidentiality is extremely important. If there is not ultimate trust in the relationship you may not get the most accurate picture. The relationship would be more effective as a pull relationship where the mentee is pulling information and knowledge from the mentor and not a push relationship, where the mentee waits for the mentor to provide information and guidance. In addition, try to change up the environment in which you meet from time to time, you don’t always have to have your mentoring sessions in an office.

Fred Szibdat said...

Hey John,

Yep, couldn't help commenting on this. At a prior employer, I had two formal mentors. Both ended in failure. And to me, they were because they failed to invest. In the relationship. SO your point of changing before it dies. Makes sense. I let my last one die. I just couldn't summon the energy to go deal with hearing platitudes that had no impact.

So by anecdote, I had a mentee who when it came time to create his yearly goals. Started by saying, I want to increase the business in the Tax department. At first blush, I said, well good, he wants to increase sales, and Big 4 firms are all about new business. But the big mistake was, he wasn't IN the tax department. What ensued was a rather lengthy discussion. And I asked him, did he A) think I'd miss that fact, or B) was he in the right place. And he wasn't in the right place. Something that dawned on him, and he moved on. Truth also. I wasn't in the right place.

Though I got great personal gain out of having a mentee or two. I couldn't reconcile the fact, that I was getting NO help. Even if I told my Partner, that I wonder if anyone notices if I don't come in and "work from home." No one saw that. ANd it was increasingly hard to invest in mentees. SHortly before I left, I was asked to mentor another new hire. ANd I flatly refused. I didn't believe in the mission statement there, and couldn't in good conscience try to inculcate a new hire, in a process, I had long given up on.

But more to some specifics on the process. I got a lot more mileage out of explaining "WHY" things are important. Or "WHY" you right good goals. Instead of "HOW". I just felt that if someone told me how to do something, its not as valuable to me as to understand why. When I understand "WHY", then the how or the communications, and the feedback, just seems to flow.

So, in a bit of political incorrectness, the How of going to catholic mass every Sunday, is a lot less important to me than the "why".


Kelly Brown said...

The best reward I get from my Mentee's is that indeed, I learn as much from them as they from me. I am glad to see someone else say that.

Mentors must clearly set the expectations or success in the coaching session will be accidental and more dependent on personal, rather than professional interest

Brian Scallan said...

Trust is obviously a primary element of such a relationship. Personal experience from both perspectives always provides the most insight and ability to gain more from a mentor-mentee relationship. Without a doubt a mentee's ability to discuss specific examples of areas where they feel challenged or ill-equipped to manage help a mentor provide useful guidance. The other critical element of this relationship is the ability to question the mentor. Too often mentee's view their mentors as omniscient on all business matters. They need to realize every individual has blind spots, so it is important to question and understand the context in which a mentor's advice and guidance is provided. Questions are what influence a discussion. Statements can erect barriers or inject unintended absolutes into discussions. Trust allows a mentee to present questions that mentors may find difficult to address objectively -- the converse also applies. You can learn much about people by examining the types of questions they ask and how they react to or assimilate the responses.

Jim Link said...

John - Great article - awesome - great to know there are senior leaders like yourself with those beleifs. Continued success!!! Jim Link

David McKee said...

Passion. Without it the relationship will die. There must be passion for the subject from both the mentor and mentee as well as deep interest. I feel that if both do not learn something from the experience, then you did not approach it correctly. Learning happens when you have a passionate interest in something - which makes it seem not "like work", but more like intense play. Then the points you listed just come naturally.

At least it works that way for me, YMMV.

David McKee

Edward Williams said...

Excellent ideas. I (based largely on extensive mentoring I did while at Ford many years) would advise the mentee: have well-thought-out, open-ended, long-term-focus questions in mind. Here's an example where I was disappointed in the mentee: The context was a "career-exploration day" in which talented high-school students would shadow Ford workers for a day. As the day drew to a close, I invited my "shadower" to ask questions. I expected, and hoped for, questions such as "What college subjects are of most importance to preparing for a career such as yours?" and "What are some of the most conspicuous failings and mistakes you have seen young people make when trying to develop their professionalism?" The question actually asked was "How big is your hard drive?" I tried, gently, to steer the mentee back to big-picture thinking by answering "It is about 30% too small. If I get a new one, twice the capacity, next week, it will be about 30% too small within about a month."

Gavin Ivester said...

Great advice!

Alex Kersha said...

This is a great one, thanks for posting...

I'm very interested in seeing the feedback on this. I could certainly use some help in this department. ;P


Greg Hamilton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter Thommen said...

We have a mentoring program in my business unit at Northrop Grumman. It started three years ago. I have been a mentor for two years. The managers of the program matched me with my protégé. (Participants may pick their own partners, but I chose to roll the dice.) We agreed and have been meeting about once a month ever since. Our program has guidelines and managers, but they give us a lot of flexibility. All participants are invited twice a year to a presentation, status report, guest speaker, and a free lunch. My protégé and I have developed a strong, but informal relationship of mutual trust and support. We talk about work and life experiences in equal measure. We do not have goals, but I am a good listener, and I give reasonable encouragement and advice. I'm sure I get as much out of the relationship as my protégé.

Ian Millar said...

You make a good point. Mentorship is a lost art in the modern day. I think that the person willing to mentor is very rare.

I just interviewed a man yesterday who shared with me that he made huge advances in his career, due to the mentorship of not one, but two men who kept him on track; he was able to earn two Master's degrees, largely paid by scholarship, due to these mentors who led him over a period of 4 years.

To answer your question, though: if you have the good fortune to have a person mentor you - do everything possible to be coachable and learn from them, as well as take any load you can that helps them keep helping you. It can take a lot of time and energy to mentor someone; make it easier by helping your mentor with whatever skills you have, so that they can continue to devote that energy to you.

Jason Robertson said...

Fantastic. I am ramping up my plan to join the Mentor\Mentee program as a mentee and this is the stuff I've been looking for. I've asked around "how can I prepare myself and my mentor for our meeting" and I dont find the answers are abundant. Thanks for posting this and the links !

Pamela Cowan said...

I had a tremendous experience with a great mentor while working at a manufacturing plant. He was always willing to give me some leaway to explore avenues and see where they would take me, even if he was cringing all the while as he didnt feel it would be successful.

He encouraged learning in any direction that could be available and supported education in all levels of the organization. He made it enjoyable and challenging.

Unfortuantely due to family circumstances I had to leave that position. I have been seeking such a mentor ever since.

Anil Saxena said...


Mentoring is really the best kept secret of career success. All extremely successful folks in any endeavor have had a mentor. Mentors are great because they want you to succeed and your success is their reward.
My most memorable mentor was a consultant that I worked with on a recent project. Technically I managed him, but he taught me more than I could have ever paid him for. He was patient, willing to share and was truly interested in my success even when that meant me leaving the organization. He was free with knowledge and candid with his feedback. I still think about things he says now when I leading courses.

He always had time to help me and was willing to find out ways to explain things multiple times in multiple ways if I did not understand. I call him to this day for advice. He is someone I trust and have grown to respect tremendously.

I am working on creating a couple of mentoring programs for clients. They are facing an issue of large numbers of their best folk’s retirement. This is leaving a HUGE gap. Using mentoring and Structured on the Job training has made the process more efficient and much less painful.
Looking forward to reading other’s experiences

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