How to cultivate a strong mentor relationship

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Man-and-woman-sitting-next-to-each-otherMentor “matching” goes both ways: a good fit doesn’t mean that it is best only for the mentee; rather, a strong match indicates that both parties are content with the relationship. When approaching someone to be a mentor, you should directly check in and ensure that they can benefit from supporting you in your career. It may seem like a contradiction to the nature of a mentor relationship, but many mentors do benefit from helping up-and-coming professionals.

Traits of a strong mentor

A good mentor is someone who is willing to work for you without doing things for you entirely. They should always provide perspective but never give you the answer without first guiding and/or challenging you to reach it on your own. Here are a few key traits of a strong mentor:

Prioritizes

Mentors should always strive to bring you back to the high level; at the end of each meeting, you should once again have a clear idea of your top priorities. For anyone, the daily grind can result in a “trenches” perspective in which you forget what you’re actually striving toward in the long-run. Mentors should help you maintain a strong sense of your key priorities, which will only help you to reach them sooner.

Gives Perspective

A strong mentor offers perspective in most situations and is able to provide their mentee with a more objective standpoint, even if they haven’t gone through a particular experience themselves. Mentees benefit from the perspective of an industry leader or experienced professional in a number of tangible ways (connections, introductions, feedback on work, etc.), but one of the best advantages that a mentor provides is a simple perspective check throughout the journey.

Challenges

Mentors who challenge their mentees are far more valuable than mentors who avoid confrontation at all costs. Seek out a mentor who you think will give you candid feedback and offer a new opinion that conflicts with your own. The more opinions (especially strong ones) that you can obtain, the more clear your own stance will become on a variety of issues. Good mentors don’t shy away from confrontation, and they should always challenge your ideas or decisions. That being said, mentors aren’t always right, and not every challenge to your idea(s) should be accepted without pushback of your own.

Traits of a strong mentee

Just as there can be good and bad mentors, mentees can also prove to be a worthwhile connection – or largely a waste of time. When developing a mentor relationship, avoid wasting the time of someone who likely has little time to spare by incorporating the following actions into your mentor relationship:

Comes prepared to every conversation

Mentees should never come into a meeting or conversation with their mentor without some preparation. Enter into a meeting with notes that include a clear goal/outcome and specific questions that require more than a “yes” or “no.”

States opinions and provides outlets for pushback

Don’t be afraid to give your stark opinion on an idea, even if it is under-developed. Mentors need to hear a clear statement in order to give you candid and tangible feedback. If you present vague ideas or only ask questions, mentors can’t challenge your own perspectives and you won’t develop a strong leadership style of your own.

Exhibits graciousness and respects time

The key to being a strong mentee is often remembering the simple fact that your mentor is human. Do this by thanking them for their time and support consistently – and send regular thank you notes. Respect their time and other engagements by showing flexibility and understanding that they are likely mentoring you in addition to a number of other obligations.

Developing a strong mentor-mentee relationship requires preparation and respect on both sides. Professional mentor relationships are one of the best ways to develop as a professional, but it is important to remember that regardless of who you are in the scenario, you will “get what you give.”

If you have any advice for mentors or mentees, please share with us the comments section!

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About Claire Topalian

Claire Topalian is a writer, non-profit Communications professional, and advocate for diversity in business. She currently leads Communications and the Startup Women initiative at UP Global, an international non-profit that builds startup communities through educational programs and events. You can follow her on Twitter @clairetopalian.

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