Establish Mentoring Ground Rules

Businessmen on Sports FieldFourth in a series.

Now that you have chosen your mentor, decided what assistance you will need and identified how to trust and respect your mentor, it is time to establish ground rules. Discuss these topics with your mentor:

  1. Frequency of meetings. Determine how often you will meet…weekly, monthly, quarterly, or as needed.
  2. Length. Discuss how long your mentoring relationship will last. You may need your mentor for just a short time to assist with a specific area of professional growth or for a longer period of time.
  3. Roles. Outline the roles that you and the mentor will play. Are there various hats that your mentor may wear, such as career expert, financial advisor or resume builder?
  4. Confidentiality. It is critical to discuss confidentiality. You must have the assurance of your mentor that all of your conversations are kept between the two of you. Confidentiality builds trust.
  5. Communication. Every person has her/his own preferred method of communication. What is your mentor’s? What is yours? Some people prefer face-to-face while others like telephone conversations. How will you communicate between meetings?
  6. Feedback. The most under-valued component of the communication model is feedback. Not enough people ask for it or give it. Establish mechanisms for feedback, whether you solicit it or it is given to you unsolicited.
  7. Formality. How formal or informal will your relationship be? Will you be meeting at your mentor’s private club for a business lunch, or will you meet for a cup of coffee at a local coffeehouse? Even the most formal of relationships can relax over time once you get to know each other.
  8. Boundaries. Every relationship has boundaries. Since you and your mentor are engaged in a professional relationship, use your best judgment to not overstep those boundaries.
  9. Time. Your mentor’s time is valuable, as is yours. Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Take advantage of every meeting by coming prepared with topics for discussion, potential challenges you are facing and intelligent questions that serve your needs.

What other ground rules would you establish? Discuss them at the beginning, and lay a solid foundation for success in your mentoring relationship .

Trust and Respect Your Mentor

Reckless personThird in a series.

Every meaningful relationship is built on the foundation of trust and respect. Within a mentoring relationship, you must trust your mentor to provide you with guidance and expert advice, based on his/her professional and personal experiences. Respect her/his opinions and ideas for the same reason, because your mentor has lived through challenges that you may not have yet experienced.

Trust takes time. Invest quality time at the beginning of your relationship to get acquainted with your mentor. It is through inquiry that you will learn about each other. Come prepared to your first meeting with a series of thoughtful questions that open up the dialogue. Be respectful when you ask the questions. Here are a few examples:

  • Who has had a great influence on your life?
  • What are you hoping to get out of our mentoring relationship?
  • What have been some of your greatest challenges in life? How did you overcome them and succeed?
  • At what point in your life did you feel lacking a direction? What did you do to get back on track?
  • What are the best strategic decisions that you have made in your life?

What additional questions would you ask?

Every human being has a story. What is your mentor’s story? Open up the questions beyond just career. To know the whole person, consider that person’s entire lived experience. The more that is revealed to you, the more you will understand. As you begin to understand, you will begin to trust. Building trust begins with honest, open dialogue.

How to Select the Right Mentor

ResourceWordSecond in a series.

Before you select a mentor, first consider Lesson 2: Decide what assistance you need. This will guide your selection process to find an appropriate mentor. Here are a few examples:

Are you thinking of changing careers? Find someone who has successfully transitioned from one career field to another, whether by choice or necessity. The key: Has this person made the shift easily?

Do you want to start your own business? Look no further than business owners who you already know, or consult the pages of your local business journal to find entrepreneurs who have been successful in their business ventures.

Are you trying to figure out how to climb the corporate ladder? Maneuvering the culture and politics of large organizations requires the guidance of someone who has already survived this feat. Look within or outside your organization.

Do you want to be considered for more high-powered assignments? Pay attention to people you know professionally who are working on large projects with greater responsibilities and who have credibility as a project leader.

Are you interested in getting more involved in the community? Observe who is already contributing to your community’s growth and development through boards, task forces or committees. Review their accomplishments.

Can one mentor help you with more than one of these needs? Absolutely. For instance, if you are interested in elevating your visibility, a mentor could assist you with the last three examples listed above.

When you decide what your need is, it will become clear to you who may be an appropriate mentor for you. Do your research. Interview several potential candidates to see who best fits your needs. You will know when you find the perfect mentor because you will feel the connection from the beginning. Choose wisely. Mentoring relationships can last several months or even years.

How do you begin a mentoring relationship? Ask the person you have selected if s/he would consider being your mentor to help you with your specific needs.

What a Mentor Is and Isn’t

QuestionMarkWPeople-CroppedThroughout your career, you may find yourself in need of guidance, advice and direction. A mentor can help you expand your thinking and get you where you need to be. Many employers offer in-house mentoring programs, often pairing a senior and junior executive. Some professional organizations offer programs as well. If your company or professional organization does not provide a formal mentoring program, then consider finding a mentor on your own. This person could be someone you admire and respect from your profession or your community. In the coming blog posts, I will share with you my insights on how to benefit from a valuable mentoring relationship.

Before you do anything, you must first understand Lesson 1: Know what a mentor is and is not. 

A mentor is: A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor who brings specific expertise to the relationship. A mentor is a willing partner who is interested in helping you reach your goals. This person may or may not be from the same profession as you. A mentor serves as a sounding board, someone with whom you can share thoughts, ideas and issues. S/he can also shorten your learning curve and teach you more in less time. A mentor’s common sense helps you weigh your own decisions. A mentor’s time is valuable, so take advantage of that expertise by making every meeting productive.

A mentor is not: A mentor is not a person who tells you what you should or should not do, rather, someone who guides you and serves as a resource. A mentor is not a counselor (someone who is certified to handle specific behavioral issues), so don’t use her/him to dump on. Don’t focus all of your energy on negative problems (what is wrong). Instead, turn your energy to positive outcomes (what is possible). A mentor is not someone who can “automatically” advance your career. That, as you know, requires time and effort. A mentor is not someone who you meet with once or twice; mentoring relationships usually last for many months or even years.

Are you at a point in your career where you could use a mentor?