A good mentor — and mentee — can be hard to find. If you’re going to willingly spend time with another person, the arrangement should be worthwhile and enjoyable for everyone. Given how much networking is now done in online spaces, having a real-life mentoring relationship with someone can be especially valuable and help people retain or develop interpersonal communication skills.
We asked members of the Thrive Global community to share the keys to developing an effective mentor-mentee relationship once a bond is established. Here’s what they think:
Discuss challenges from a place of experience
“Having a mentor and mentee who are both from diverse backgrounds can be very meaningful. Particular challenges can then be openly discussed from a place of experience.”
—Mim Senft, founder, CEO, Blooming Grove, NY
Keep things professional
“My experiences as a mentor, mentee, and observer clearly show that the key to an effective mentor-mentee relationship is keeping things professional. It’s also vital for the mentor to be accessible to others who also seek guidance and growth. The sharing and learning experience needs to have clear goals and objectives, as well as an execution plan. That plan should feature measurable steps that lead to the desired outcome.”
—Michael Ivers, business intelligence, Lake Stevens, WA
Be compassionately direct with feedback
“My experience as a mentor is to always be completely truthful. There’s no point in mentoring someone if you aren’t prepared to help them grow. The truth will always help your mentee step into a greater version of themselves, but the key is in finding the most graceful and kind way to deliver it to them.”
—Bronwen Sciortino, international author and simplicity expert, Perth, Western Australia
Make it a win-win professional relationship
“The key to successful mentorship, for me, is some sort of mutual benefit. Both parties need to be receiving something from the relationship, or it’s not worth it. It doesn’t always have to be material on both sides — the mentor could simply receive joy from mentoring — but both parties must get value. Mentors should ask a prospective mentee the outcomes they hope to achieve. Mentees should ask the mentor for the honest reason they decided to advise them.”
—Stefan Palios, entrepreneur, Toronto, Canada
Prioritize checking in with each other
“The key is making the time to follow up with one another. Life gets busy and it can be easy to slip into old habits. Commitment to making time for each other helps keep the relationship strong.”
—Joyel Crawford, leadership development consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Have specific questions
“We tend to think of mentorship as a series of relationships that run consecutively throughout our careers and parallel to our own paths. But I’ve learned that mentorship can be found in all vessels — we just have to know the exact question to ask. No one mentor will have the exact advice, wisdom, or insight for your every question. However, building a strong network of people with varied backgrounds and experiences gives you access to many answers — just be specific with your questions.”
—Stacy Cassio, CEO, Charlotte, N.C.
Establish clear boundaries
“As a mentor for both small businesses and young entrepreneurs, I believe one of the most important tips for an effective relationship is to establish clear boundaries with your mentees. How can they get in contact with you? What are your working hours? Is there any way that you can clarify your expectations? I’ve learned how boundaries can shape a professional and long-lasting relationship — especially working with young people.”
—Fab Giovanetti, mentor and published author, London, U.K.
Act as a sounding board for each other
“One of the big themes I’ve seen in my mentorship of younger students is curiosity, willingness to tinker, and periodic check-ins. I’ve mentored a small group of students, and they all have taken the time to ask me questions about my experiences (i.e., my university experience and how they can have a good experience in their own), to try out different ideas they got from our interactions (like my social media staff learning new skills), or big projects they’re working on to improve some aspect of life on campus. They always return later to bounce ideas off of me about what is and isn’t working for them, what they’re learning, and where they can improve.”
—Andrew Kuttain, communications and recruitment specialist, Guelph, ON, Canada
Only mentor someone if you can give them your all
“A successful mentor relationship is one where you enter with your eyes wide open to your commitment. If you’re in, go all in. Don’t say yes and then struggle to find the time and energy to do it well. Be respectful of your commitment. A great mentor of mine gave me the wind in my wings. He was my former manager who raised my confidence, pointed out strengths I didn’t know I had, and encouraged me to go back to study and pivot my career. He did the right thing by the business I was working for (I was tired and unmotivated in that role) and by my future self, as he propelled me into a career and business ownership that’s both fulfilling and joyful.”
—Odette Barry, PR agency owner, Byron Bay, Australia
Showcase your mentor’s work
“Share your mentor’s work with the world. The mentor-mentee relationship should be win-win.
Writing a thoughtful testimonial or creating a gratitude video showcasing how much your mentor has helped you, and then sharing it across social media, will help boost your credibility. It’s also a kind gesture toward your mentor.”
—Tina Bangel, vocal coach, Sydney, Australia
Show each other respect
“The key to making a mentor relationship work is respect. Both parties need to be willing to listen and learn. Mentors giving advice without understanding the mentee’s unique perspective and goals won’t benefit either person the way that an active conversation can. As a mentee, making sure the mentor you choose has relevant experience in achieving what you’re looking to accomplish is vital. Mentorships are often a limited-time engagement, and as both people mature and goals are reached or change, the relationship may evolve or lose the mentor-mentee dynamic.”
—Conor O’Loughlin, CEO and founder, Los Angeles, CA
Understand the difference between a sponsor and a mentor
“Both sponsorship and mentorship are important — it’s not one or the other. A mentor is someone who plays an important role as a teacher and guide, whereas a sponsor is an advocate. We see great success when a mentor converts into being a sponsor because they are more invested in their mentee. If the mentor isn’t in a position to become a sponsor, then it would be great if they could find one in their network. A mentor’s recommendation goes a long way in securing a sponsor.”
—Varsha Waishampayan, CEO and lead founder, New York and New Jersey
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.