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Mentorships work best when both parties have something to gain.

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Earlier this year, Chameleon Collective partnered with an organization of rising business leaders to provide mentorship opportunities to its members. Without hesitation, I raised my hand for a mentorship match. This led me to connect with an exceptional up-and-coming professional working for a prestigious global brand. We quickly fell into synergy, tackling three areas—career trajectory,  specific annual goals, and day-to-day management (managing up, across, and down).  

The experience has been and continues to be rewarding. I was excited to compare notes with my colleagues who were also participating in the program. Surprisingly, I learned that not all of my fellow Chameleons were having the same success as I had with my mentee. This discovery prompted me to explore why our partnership was working so well. And as it turned out, it had very little to do with me!

Though a mentor is supposed to guide the mentee, having a successful mentorship takes effort from both participants. Both need to commit to putting in the time and effort to stay connected, maintain a growth mindset, and keep the relationship moving forward. It truly is a two-way relationship, and because we both treated it this way, we were able to create even more value than we each came in with.

With this in mind, I’ve picked out some of the most important tips and insights from this experience to help future mentors and mentees get the most from their partnerships.

For Mentors: Tips to Create a Successful Mentee Relationship

As a mentor, your mentee looks to you for guidance. You are the leader in the relationship, but at the same time, your mentee is also leading you by seeking information they want to know. It’s a symbiotic relationship because, as the saying goes, “To teach is to learn twice.” 

I maintained this same mantra in my recent mentorship, and here’s where I think other mentors can provide more value to their mentees:

Prioritize Time Together

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I was shocked to see that many of my co-worker’s mentees had “gone dark” on them. They weren’t responding to emails, would cancel scheduled appointments, or wouldn’t show up. But I also noticed that part of the problem was that the mentors weren’t holding them accountable. That’s a big piece of mutually beneficial relationships—each needs to be as invested as the other. 

My mentee has always shown up, is always on time, and is always respectful of our end time. Part of the reason, I believe, is that I have always treated our meetings as a priority. I silence my phone, give them my full attention, make eye contact, and ask questions for clarity. I show my investment in them. And I set early expectations for how I want my time to be treated: If they need to cancel or reschedule, advanced notice is always appreciated.

Prepare Specific Topics to Discuss

At the onset of working together, I knew my mentee wanted to explore particular issues. They were clearly defined and allowed me the opportunity to prepare questions ahead of time. It also serves as a northern light when the fire drill moments occur and gives us a place to revisit every few months as a touch base on our progress.

I would also use their points of interest to come up with topics and examples of my own. This helped them to think of things in a new way that wasn’t on their radar but could be helpful nonetheless.

Live by Open Communication

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If there is a conflict or competing priority that can impact our meeting time or topic, I always know well in advance. We agreed to communicate via email for “random one-offs” and leverage our conversations for more strategic discussions. I made myself reachable, but at the same time, I protected my time and theirs by limiting how much and how often we communicated. 

Create Action Lists and Follow-Throughs

At the end of each conversation, we leave time for wrap-up and next steps. Any action items that have resulted from the discussion are communicated with a targeted completion date (typically by our next meeting). We then can easily pick up the following conversation where we finished last.

Remain Open-Minded to Questions and Provide Candid Feedback

I believe a good mentor asks good questions. I will never know the intricacies in an organization I’m not involved in nor all of the life experiences had by another. Because of this, my solutions may or may not be fitting to the situation at hand. By asking good questions, the individual can come to their own conclusions a lot easier. And when it’s their idea, they are much more committed to the outcome.  

There are times when even my questions are off base and don’t lead to the desired result. In those times, the mentee I’m working with is never afraid to give me candid feedback and say, “No, that isn’t helpful to me in this situation.” By offering that feedback in real-time, we are both making the best use of our moments spent together.  

For Mentees: How to Maximize Your Mentor Relationship

Seeking the help of a mentor inherently puts you at an advantage over others because it demonstrates you care about your own success. Harvard research says that three in four people view a mentor as a valuable and necessary part of growth, and yet 54% of people do not have one.

My mentee does a number of impressive things during our time together that I think other mentees should take to heart:

Be Intentional

It’s okay to pursue a mentorship because you think it’s somehow valuable. But it’s even more productive when you pursue it intentionally. Tie your mentorship back to your goals and watch your progress come alive.

Remain Flexible

Sometimes, external challenges or needs will need to take precedence over a mentor meeting. Be flexible during these moments and know that navigating unwanted changes is also part of growth.

Ask Tough Questions

No question was off the table. Some put me outside of my comfort zone, and I relished the challenge. Believe me when I say that both sides have so much to gain from each other. 

Your turn: Will you be a mentor or a mentee? I suggest trying both. You never know how much you might learn.

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