How to Be a Better Mentee

How to Be A Better Mentee

Do you know what’s the best way to ensure you have a meaningful mentoring relationship? Sure it helps to have a great mentor. But you know what’s equally important? Showing up as a great mentee.

Over the years, we’ve both had times where we’ve had employees ask us to be their mentor, and then we ask them what they’re looking to accomplish in the first session, they just looked at us with a blank stare. It’s as if they were just waiting for us to start espousing sage wisdom.

Mentoring doesn’t work that way. To find a great mentor, start by showing up as a rock star mentee.

Five Ways to Show Up as a Better Mentee

Just like everything else in your career, the more you put in, the more you get out. Show up with a plan to launch an enriching relationship.

1. Know What You’re Looking to Accomplish

Determine specifically what you’re looking to achieve from your work together. Is there something about your mentor’s background or skill set that you want to learn? Perhaps they’re particularly good at navigating the political landscape, or great during times of stress. Or maybe you’re looking for better insights into how you’re being perceived in the organization or support in expanding your network with a few key introductions. As with all relationships, you’ll be more successful if you both are clear on your expectations for your work together. Have an open conversation about expectations upfront to determine if you’re aligned.

2. Be Truly Open to Feedback

If you’re going to ask for feedback and advice, be sure you’re listening. You don’t have to agree or act on it, but be sure to be open and say thank you. Nothing will turn off your new mentor more than a defensive argument about why their perception isn’t accurate.

3. Offer to Help

The best mentoring relationships are reciprocal—both human beings grow in the process. Ask what you can do to be helpful to them. Maybe it’s rolling up your sleeves and pitching in on a project they’re doing, teaching them a skill they don’t know, or making an introduction.

4. Bring Conversation Starters

The first few mentoring sessions can be a bit awkward. Don’t leave it to chance. Why not come with a few “starter” questions.

  • What are you most excited about in terms of the future of our organization? Why? How can I best prepare to add the most value?
  • I’m curious. What excites and energizes you about your work here? And, what drains or frustrates you? How do you manage this frustration?
  • When you’re not at work, what are some of your favorite things to do? Are you able to leverage any of those skills here?
  • What skills and behaviors you think are most important for success in my role? Do you have any advice for shortening the learning curve in that arena?
  • Which skills and behaviors have helped you be successful here?
  • Looking back over your career, what lessons do you wish you learned sooner?

The best mentoring relationships are grounded in deep-trust—and that takes time. Be patient and invest the time it takes to truly get to know and support one another.

5. Follow-Through

The other day, Karin met with a millennial she’s been mentoring for some time. They met for lunch and before they’d even opened their menus he said, “I know what you’re going to ask. And no I haven’t done that yet.”

As a matter of fact, it was going to be the first question she asked because he’d committed to the same action in the last three sessions. As a mentee, if you want results, you’ve got to do the work, otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Prefer Video? How to Be a Better Mentee– Asking for a Friend

If you like the idea of quick tip videos. Join me every Wednesday on my Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn.

Your turn

What would you add? What advice do you have for helping an employee make the most of a mentoring relationship by being a better mentee?

See Also: Is your Mentor Actually Hurting Your Career: How to Fire a Bad Mentor (FAST COMPANY)

Mentoring Moments: Just in Time Support

Someone asks you to be their mentor. You’re not sure you can commit. It’s a lot of time, and you’re already overloaded. Plus you’ve mentored in several formal mentoring programs and it felt forced and awkward.

Formal programs can stifle a good relationship. Even organic relationships can lose steam with too much structure. Worse, many connections never start for fear of commitment.

Mentoring Moments

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” -Phil Collins

Instead of saying, “yes! I’ll be your mentor,” or “I’m sorry, I can’t at this time,” how about a simple, “I’d be happy to talk with you.” Keep it natural. Find time to connect. Figure out why they thought of you. Help where you can. Connect them to others who can support. If it makes sense to set a follow-up, do that. Don’t get stuck mentoring past helpfulness. Growing leaders can benefit from a series of mentoring moments with a broad spectrum of leaders. You will learn from these moments too.

Tips for a Making Great Mentoring Moments

  • Ask lots of questions
  • Work on a specific skill
  • Pull out the answers
  • Provide information and encouragement
  • Help them ask “why?”
  • Dust them off when they fail
  • Encourage self-reflection
  • Serve as sounding board
  • Remove obstacles
  • Uncover resources
  • Create additional connections

10 Mentoring Moment Sentence Starters

  • Have you thought about.
  • What do you think would happen if.
  • Why do you think that happened?
  • Who should you involve?
  • When is the best time to do this?
  • Why are you pursuing that approach?
  • Which are the most important goals?
  • What will happen next?
  • Why does that make you so angry?
  • Who can help?

Humility Matters: 9 Ways Confident Leaders Remain Humble

We want to follow people with confidence, charisma and a strong sense of direction. Confidence inspires, attracts, excites and ignites. We think, “they sure do seem to know what they’re doing” And yet, I have observed that confidence, without humility, can be dangerous. I have seen it significantly limit a leader’s effectiveness. They stay their course, but may miss important input. People may follow, but not with their full spirit. Truly confident leaders are secure enough to embrace and share their humility. In the long run, their humility makes them stronger.

“What the world needs now is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left.”
~Oscar Levant

Michael Carroll describes the “talent of humility,” in his book The Mindful Leader. He shares that when leaders understand they are part of a much bigger scene that is not fully within their control, they are free to show up more human. It’s from that humility, that they can confidently show up to do the best work possible. They offer more of their whole selves to the moment.

“Humility is how we express our delight– how we appreciate the simple pleasures and great joys. And equally, humility is how we open to life’s inconveniences and devastating tragedies. When we are humble, no experience is beneath us, no colleague is unworthy, no moment does not merit our full attention. Because we are humble, we do not pick and chose– savoring only the tasty parts of life and leaving the rest for others. We are wiling to experience the entire situation directly and work with every detail.”

I have been observing the leaders I admire who seem to striving for confident humility. Here’s 9 things I’m picking up. Please share your thoughts on the 10th.

9 Ways Confident Leaders Express Humility

  1. Understand they don’t have all the answers– and search for more
  2. Attract those who will tell the truth– and be able to hear them
  3. Reflect on their own leadership– and seek out change as needed
  4. Read about other approaches– and adjust
  5. Seek out mentors– from all levels
  6. Share more about themselves and create connections
  7. Seek to learn about the people they work with– and see them as people
  8. Try out new behaviors and ask for feedback
  9. Take stands against the politically correct choice
  10. ??? (please share your thoughts)

Won’t You Be My Mentor?

So, you want a mentor. Now what?

Where? Who? How to approach?

First, let me say this. I have NEVER been offended by anyone who has asked me for career advice , or wanting to know me better. I love to help. I have always said yes to anyone who approached me with the “M” word (although those folks usually don’t stick around when they approach that way it’s normally because someone told them to, or they just read a book).

Also, I have NEVER had someone tell me they are too busy to talk about such subjects. Every time I ask, I get a great story, and often a life long friend.

If you are feeling scared just ask. The results may surprise you.

Once they say yes, like a good first date, have a plan.

Some questions to consider in your preparation:

  • Why are you here? Why them?
  • What do you want them to know about you? (Once again, time for that Elevator Speech)
  • What do you want to know about their story? Ask some questions.
  • What is your big career plan? What are your next steps?
  • What do they already know about you (what is your brand with them, with others?)
  • What worries you most open up a bit
  • Does this feel right? If so, ask if it would be okay to meet again?

Don’t Get a Mentor

I was recently on a hiking tour of the Utah National Parks with my son. After the first big day of hiking, Seb (6) looks at me and says, “if we are going to do this again tomorrow, we will need some help, let’s each pick 3 Pokemon to take along we can summon them up as needed. They’ve got some good skills that can help”

Turns out he leverages Pokemon like I engage mentors.

I have wonderful “mentors” turned life-long friends who I can rely on (and they can rely on) as needed. At this stage, I can pretty much anticipate the reaction I will get depending on who I call.

  • One keeps challenging me to take weird jobs
  • Another encourages me to develop my interest and practice of spirituality in leadership (ironically, because it’s important to me, not because it’s particularly important to him)
  • Another I call when I need to be humbled, or get ahead of myself
  • And, another I call when I am down and need someone to tell me I am “wonderful”
  • And others

Why Mentoring Programs Don’t Work

Stop looking for formal programs and mentors. Such programs seldom work. The matches are artificial. The “rules” forced. I’ve built such programs over the years. I’ve mentored and been mentored in such scenes. The truth is, the best relationships develop organically.

Invest time, energy, and commitment into real relationships with great people you stumble on throughout your career. Like any other friendship, if you keep your eyes, heart and mind open, these folks will show up.

My advice to young leaders:

  • find a mentor early
  • keep adding them along the way
  • invest time and energy
  • care about them as much as they care about you
  • be deliberate about keeping the magic alive

Hang on and Give Back

One of my favorite such mentors, Gary, died several years ago. I keep his help alive by thinking “what would Gary say” Sometimes his advice just seems to surface when I am on a long run, or really stuck I know he is still impacting my life and career.

The best part of having had great mentors, is the chance to give it back (same rules apply).

And when it’s real, I never let it go.

This is mentoring week on Let’s Grow Leaders. I will address a mentoring topic each day. I hope you will join in the conversation.

Glass Elevators: Why Having an Elevator Speech Matters

Yesterday I attended an important meeting with important people. I was not scheduled to speak. And then, sure enough, I was given the opportunity to give my elevator speech.

A good friend of mine in Finance (p.s. always have a good friend in Finance) batted the conversation my way game on.

  • What’s our channel’s mission?
  • How are our results?
  • What’s our team best at?
  • How have we improved?

The buttons on the figurative elevator were pressed time to roll.

You see, I am familiar with elevators, and what can happen in them.

Early Elevators

Very early in my career, a VP several levels above me asked me to attend a very controversial meeting on his behalf. To this day, I don’t know if it was deliberate (because he thought I could add value), or if he really didn’t understand the controversial nature of the meeting, or if he was just scared.

The minute I walked in, I was questioned as to why I was there ( instead of the VP). I stayed (not knowing if I should), and it was down hill from there.

I listened to all the ideas for the major undertaking that were being presented. Being completely naive about how to approach such things, I said everything that was on my mind no filters to everyone in the room. This involved questioning the entire methodology of some very well-thought out plans of some amazing leaders. I was discounted, and should have been. I did not approach it well.

So, later that day when I ran into that VP in the elevator (huge building, crazy coincedence), I looked at the floor. The next thing I heard Karin, I have been thinking. You may be on to something. Please tell me what you wanted to say.

I told her and got involved. That project transformed my career, and she became a fantastic mentor.

A bit later

So years later, as I grew in leadership responsibility, I wanted the best folks on my team to always be prepared to tell their story and share their ideas in a meaningful and concise way. From time to time, I lead “mentoring circles” on the subject of elevator speeches.

I always begin these sessions with my latest “elevator speech” as an example

  • what our team is about
  • how we are making a difference
  • real statistics of how we are improving
  • and my leadership vision to lead that team

One time, after doing the session with a great group of front line leaders, I got into the elevator. We had just been through a reorganization that week and I had a new senior leader that I had not yet met (but he must have seen my picture).

He looks at me and says, “Hey, Aren’t you on my new team?  What’s your story?”

So I shared my newly minted elevator speech.

That worked too.

Since then, I always keep one fresh.

Tomorrow morning

I am attending another important meeting in a very big hotel lots of elevators lots of people.

Keeping it fresh.