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Mentoring That Works

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I am not an expert on mentoring. However, I’ve been on both ends of mentoring relationships for decades. Therefore, I’ll share a few thoughts, not as an expert, rather, as a fellow traveler, who’s also attempting to make the most of mentoring opportunities.

Select a mentor based on what you want to learn. If you wanted to learn a foreign language, you’d probably select someone who is fluent in the language you want to learn. Select a mentor based on their depth of knowledge and expertise in the arena you are exploring.

Set the schedule in advance. Will you be meeting once a month? Once a quarter? By phone? In person? If at all possible, agree on this and put the dates on the calendar. If something has to change, change it. However, failure to schedule these meetings will reduce the number of times you’ll actually meet.

Share your expectations and goals in the beginning. This is foundational. A conversation on these items will allow both parties to calibrate and adjust as needed.

Share your stories early. Personal history matters. If you learn that your mentor has additional expertise beyond what you already knew about, this is a bonus. Perhaps it will give you more topics to explore. As the mentee shares his/her story, the mentor may gain insight into resources or approaches that may prove helpful as the relationship continues.

Let the mentee set the agenda. Although the mentor almost always grows as a result of the relationship with the mentee, the focus should always be on the mentee. He or she should establish the priorities for your time together.

Ask great questions. The better the questions, the better the outcome. This is true for both the mentor and mentee. This is why preparation matters. See the next item.

Send your agenda/questions to your mentor 48 hours in advance. The benefit of preparing for the session in advance is two-fold. One, it forces the mentee to prioritize their goals and objectives. You can’t talk about everything in each meeting. Creating an agenda is a forcing mechanism. The second benefit – it allows the mentor to be better prepared.

Make copious notes. Don’t rely on your memory. You may not have access to this person forever. Also, you never know what you may capture in your notes that could serve you at a later date.

Agree on the length of the commitment. Will you meet for 90 days? Six months? Is this a year-long commitment? If you find value, chemistry and willingness to extend beyond your original commitment, do it. Always give both parties an out by discussing the length of each extension.

Say thanks! Most men and women who mentor others do so because they enjoy the process of helping people grow. Few are paid for this activity. It can be a thankless role. Don’t take this relationship for granted – say “thank you” to your mentors.


Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, a long time SLU faculty member, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization

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