Up and Down Mentorship

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 someone approaches you to be their mentor, you should ask yourself, “How will I benefit from supporting this person in their 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 their mentee without doing things for them entirely. They should always provide perspective but never give the mentee the answer without first guiding and/or challenging them to reach it on their own. Here are a few key traits of a strong mentor:


Mentors should always strive to bring mentees back to the high level; at the end of each meeting, the mentee should once again have a clear idea of  his or her 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. You should help your mentee maintain a strong sense of their key priorities, which will only help them 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.


Mentors who challenge their mentees are far more valuable than mentors who avoid confrontation at all costs. The best mentor is one who offers candid feedback and new opinions that conflict with those of the mentee. The more opinions (especially strong ones) that mentees can obtain, the more clear their own stance will become on a variety of issues. Good mentors don’t shy away from confrontation, and they should always challenge their mentee’s ideas or decisions. That being said, mentors aren’t always right, and you should accept pushback from the mentee every now and then.

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, you may expect the following behaviors from a strong mentee:

Comes prepared to every conversation

Mentees should never come into a meeting or conversation without some preparation. They should 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

Mentees shouldn’t be afraid to give their stark opinion on an idea, even if it is under-developed. As a mentor, you need to hear a clear statement in order to give candid and tangible feedback. If a mentee presents vague ideas or only ask questions, you can’t challenge their perspectives and they won’t develop a strong leadership style of their own.

Exhibits graciousness and respects time

The key to being a strong mentee is often remembering the simple fact that their mentor is human. They do this by thanking you for their time and support consistently – and sending regular thank-you notes. Mentees should respect your time and other engagements by showing flexibility and understanding that you are likely mentoring them 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.”

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