Informal Mentoring How-To’s

We hope this guide will help as you embark on a mentoring relationship – whether in the role of mentor or mentee.

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What Are The Benefits of a Mentoring Relationship?

We asked some individuals who’d been in mentoring relationships – as either mentor or mentee – what they got out of it. Here are some of their responses: 

  • “Mentoring is mutually beneficial. A mentor can be invigorated by fresh perspectives, while a mentee can receive support for how to excel in his/her current work, or how to prepare for future work.”
  • “Mentees are given an opportunity to learn and Mentors can feel the fulfillment of giving back.”
  • “It’s an opportunity to share wisdom and engage in problem solving on behalf of someone else. It's a great way to increase your network and also leverage relationships of someone invested in your success.”
  • “As a mentee, I had someone to help me navigate my professional career and provide perspective that I could not see just yet.”
  • “It’s a great way to learn more about the dynamics of the organization and a chance to learn from someone outside of one's own department.”

 

Guiding Principles for a Mentoring Relationship 

Each mentoring relationship is unique, but there are some overall principles that apply to all mentoring relationships, as follows. 

Mentoring is…

  • ...for the personal and professional gain of the person being mentored. It is not necessarily related to skills needed for their current role/job, and should not be required as part of their current role/job. It is expressly for their own growth and development. 
  • ...not tied to performance communication process. One’s performance in a mentoring relationship should not be part of any formal evaluation process.
  • ...confidential. In order to build and develop an effective mentoring relationship, discussions of private issues or challenges must be handled with discretion and sensitivity. Confidentiality will be maintained, unless one person has explicit permission from the other person to share or a breach of confidentiality is necessary to maintain someone’s personal safety. Whether you wish to share with your supervisor that you are being mentored, or mentoring someone else, is entirely up to you. 
  • ...non-judgmental. A mentoring relationship needs to provide a safe environment in which a mentee (or mentor) can try out new things and take risks. In order for this to happen, both parties must agree to be open and non-judgmental. 
  • ...defined. Expend energy early in the relationship to clarify roles and expectations (See “What do we need to talk about in our first meeting(s) together?” below).

 

What Is The Role of a Mentor?

Every mentoring relationship is different and the role that a mentor plays is also different, depending on the situation and needs of the mentee. In your initial meetings, you’ll want to discuss which of these common mentoring roles is needed in your particular relationship:

  • Guide – Imparts general knowledge and experience; teaches a particular skill set generally in an area in which s/he is more experienced or skilled
  • Ally – Acts as a sounding board / straight talker; gives the mentee a reality check on his/her ideas, solutions, and strategies
  • Catalyst – Serves as an entrepreneur / creative motivator; asks questions to spark new approaches and business ideas
  • Savvy insider – Makes introductions / connections to people in different departments/divisions and across levels; provides information about organizational priorities, culture, or topics
  • Advocate / Champion – Speaks favorably about the mentee to senior leaders and others; Makes mentee aware of opportunities within the organization
  • Role model – Provides access so that the mentee can observe his/her on-the-job behaviors or approaches so that the mentee can learn from his/her example how to do things effectively 
  • Advisor – Provides advice on a particular situation

 

What Is Not The Role Of A Mentor?

A mentor can serve as a guide, ally, role model, or in a number of other capacities, but a mentor is not a savior, a parent, or an enabler.  When mentors fall in to one of the following traps, it can damage the mentoring relationship and/or the mentee’s ability to meet his/her current or future goals: 

  • “I will take care of you” / “I can help you”
  • “I can help you get ahead”
  • “You need me”
  • “I know best”
  • “Here’s what needs to get done”

 

What Is The Role of a Mentee?

It is the responsibility of the mentee to drive the mentoring relationship forward – from selecting and approaching a mentor, to setting up meetings, and sharing goals for those meetings. The mentee “owns” the mentoring process and is responsible for whatever results from a mentoring relationship. These tasks are part of that responsibility:   

  • Set an intention for each session – The agenda for the meetings is yours. Do not depend on the mentor to come to the meeting and figure out what you want to talk about or need. Be direct in letting the mentor know how s/he can help you. 
  • Be “self-full” and put yourself first – The mentor has agreed to be present for you and to help you in achieving your goals. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to focus on yourself. You do not need to be curious about the mentor’s needs or desires. This is about you and your growth and development. 
  • State what you need and want – Do not be shy to share what you desire. Your mentor can always redirect your request or help you to refine your goals, but put what you are aiming for out there as a starting place. 
  • Follow through by taking action on what you agreed upon – The work in a mentoring relationship is done by the person who most benefits from it – the mentee. Please respect your mentor’s time and commitment by following through on any actions you discuss together.
  • Assume responsibility for your own growth through this process.

 

What Do We Need to Talk About in Our First Meeting(s) Together?

Starting out with a mentoring relationship can be awkward, especially if you have never been in such a relationship before. But putting in time and energy as you embark upon a mentoring relationship is critical to set you up for success. If you don’t take the time to prepare, you will likely limit the eventual effectiveness of the mentoring. You’ll need some best practices for launching a mentoring relationship, and some initial meeting conversation starters to enable that successful outcome. 

Tips for beginning a mentoring relationship 

  • Recognize that you will both be nervous initially
  • Build trust and rapport, but don’t expect to have instant rapport. Relationships are built over time as each of you reveals more about yourself to the other person. 
  • Build rapport by sharing something personal about you, e.g. interests, joys, passions, strengths, weaknesses
  • Clarify roles – Use the roles listed above to talk about what kind of mentor the mentee needs.
  • Communicate expectations
  • How will you communicate? 
  • When/where will you meet?
  • How will you give each other feedback?
  • What are mentee goals / needs?
  • Develop goals for the relationship 

Initial meeting conversation starters

Use these questions in your first meetings as mentor and mentee to help solidify your successful working relationship:

  • Which assignments, jobs or roles in the past provided you with the most challenge? The least challenge? Why?
  • Tell me about an accomplishment of which you are especially proud.
  • What are your most important values? Which values are met and not met at work?
  • What makes you unique? What are your interests, skills, personal traits, style, passions?
  • What part of your education or work experience has been the most valuable to you over the years?
  • What actions have you taken to manage your career? What assistance may I provide?
  • What lessons have you learned from your successes and failures?
  • What is your biggest challenge in trying to balance your work life and personal life? 
  • How do you wish to work together / communicate? 
     

Tips and Best Practices for Working Together As Mentor and Mentee

You’re underway - You’ve embarked on a mentoring relationship! These tips will help guide you as you continue to work together:

  • You are both valuable to the relationship
  • You have to continue to build trust
  • Be positive, dependable, honest and sincere
  • Be consistent but flexible; expect changes in plans
  • Encourage, praise and compliment – even the smallest of accomplishments
  • Ask for what you need
  • Admit what you don’t know
  • Honor your commitment
  • Have fun

 

What Do We Need to Think About at The End of This Mentoring Relationship?

As long as a mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial to the mentor and mentee, there is no reason it would need to end. However, some relationships continue even after they are no longer productive or valuable. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs that a mentoring relationship should end and to employ some best practices to end on a good note.

Signs a mentoring relationship should end

  • Mentor and mentee don’t “click”
  • Mentee’s goals are accomplished
  • End of agreed upon timeframe
  • Mentor or mentee cannot give it the time needed
  • Mentor is feeling overburdened by mentee requests
  • Mentee is not assuming responsibility for progress and/or for mentoring relationship

Tips for ending a mentoring relationship

  • Explicitly discuss whether the relationship should end. Don’t just let it fizzle out or ignore addressing any issues 
  • Agree on whether the relationship is ending
  • Agree on how to end (e.g. will you stop immediately or wean off slowly?) and future availability (e.g. when and how can mentee contact mentor in the future?)
  • Consider what has been accomplished / Celebrate successes
  • Discuss what remains to be done and mentee’s plan to carry it out
  • Share thoughts about the mentoring process
  • Thank each other for time, learnings, and mutual development

 

Additional Resources

 

Contact Information

For more information or assistance, please contact the CUIMC-HR Talent Management Team:
cuimchrlearning@cumc.columbia.edu