What it takes to be successful at mentoring

Lory Fischler — №23 with Mike St. Pierre

Do you know the answers to these questions? You should, because success in your career is dependent on them. However, many employees can only guess at the answers or hope they are on the right track. These four questions are what set your direction, efforts, strategies and career goals. If you are one of the lucky people, you are getting authentic, candid, honest feedback from your manager about where you stand. Many people, however, don’t benefit from that kind of feedback. They get innuendo, inference and a yearly performance review to sort through in order to figure out what they need to do to be successful.

There is another way

The data clearly indicates that most successful people attribute some or part of their success to the mentors who were there to guide and strengthen them. Mentors understand the value of mentoring, and generally speaking, want to help others coming up behind them. If no one specifically reaches out to them, they will most likely reach out to those who make their own jobs easier, and where the personal payoff will be the greatest.

If there is someone you admire that you would like help and support from, you have arrived at:

Principle #1: You have to ask.

Here are some approaches to making the Ask:

“I want to get ahead. Will you help me?”

That won’t make it.

“My boss told me I should find a mentor.”

Oops. We’re moving in the wrong direction.

“I can’t stand my boss. She is micromanaging me. I need some help getting her off my back.”

That’s a no-go as well.

“I need to learn how to see the big picture. I get stuck in the weeds too frequently.”

Now you are beginning to see the light.

“I really admire how, in meetings, you seem to be able to crystallize what you hear from others’ comments and data, and summarize it with a more global perspective. I hope to be in a leadership position some day and I need to develop that skill in myself. I wonder if you would be willing to give me some time over the course of the next few months to help me with that?”

Houston, we have liftoff!

What makes this last ask more effective than the others? It meets all the criteria necessary:

What to do? Practice your Ask until you are comfortable with it.

Principle #2: Be open to learning

Mentoring is a reciprocal learning relationship when it is successful. You need to go into the relationship with a sense of curiosity and wonder. Your mentoring relationship is a great place to bring questions and seek answers. It is not a place for debate, arguing and defending. A mentor will tire quickly if every comment is met with resistance and pushback.

What to do? Ask questions and listen.

Principle #3: Know yourself

Forget false modesty. Forget bravado. What are you good at? What do you need to work on? Assume that one of the first questions your mentor might ask you behind close doors is:

Hemming and hawing will simply communicate that you either lack self-awareness or you are unwilling to let down your guard.

What to do? Get feedback in advance from your supervisor and colleagues. Be prepared to share it with your mentor.

Principle #4: Allow yourself to be vulnerable

The honest desire to learn is a mentee’s greatest asset. The value of mentoring is the highest for mentees when they allow themselves to be vulnerable with their mentor. What does that look like? It is certainly not about always looking good. It is about revealing worries and fears (but remember, mentoring is not therapy) that keep you from being effective.

The greatest learning and biggest payoff in a mentoring relationship is when you allow yourself to be pushed out of your comfort zone. The more you stretch yourself – the more you will grow in your role. And your mentor will appreciate that you are willing to take risks.

What to do? Be prepared to be honest about what you don’t know, what you fear, and what you need to learn.

Principle #5: Be prepared to work

Mentoring is not for the faint of heart. If you really want to develop yourself, it will be the result of applying what you learn by taking on a new task, project or leadership activity. It comes from adding things to your plate, not subtracting. However, mentoring shouldn’t detract from your normal workload. Learn how to manage your time, priorities and normal job assignments in order to handle new commitments.

What to do? Discuss your learning opportunities with your direct supervisor and make sure your work doesn’t suffer.

Mentoring pays huge dividends to the lucky mentee who is willing to fully engage in the process. To glean maximum benefits, ask for the help you need. Be open to learning. Know yourself and allow yourself be vulnerable. It is going to be hard work, but there are great rewards in the end.

Photo: Flickr / AvgeekJoe CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Lory fischler

Lory Fischler

A senior associate with Leadership Development Services, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership and mentoring and the associate director of its Center for Mentoring Excellence. She is a dynamic, insightful and seasoned professional with over 25 years’ experience in consulting, training and coaching clients from a diverse array of organizations, including Fortune 500, healthcare, manufacturing, government and nonprofit. Lory is the co-author of The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You and Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable due to be released in October of 2014.

Leadership Development Services Website Visit the Center of Mentoring Excellence