Tips for a Fantastic Mentor/Mentee Relationship

“I know we’ve never met and you don’t know me, but I need help and am looking for mentoring. Would you be willing to mentor me on project management? I want to get better and my company is allowing me time to learn.”

Sure!! I was truly humbled being asked.

Early in my career, I was fortunate to have a fantastic mentor. He taught me lessons about building trust and handling conflict. My next mentor taught me how to manage meetings better. Yet another, the value of a very short status. Each mentor helped guide and gave me advice that furthered my career. Eventually, I had mentors in operational areas that expanded my knowledge beyond project management.

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I’ve also mentored junior project managers and PM students. I let them know up front my goal is to help and offer advice, but by no means take my word as Gospel. If you disagree, great! If you think I’m nuts, OK! But at least I’ve given you some ideas.

A mentor/mentee relationship can be very valuable for both people if done right. Below are tips for establishing and maintaining a fantastic mentor/mentee relationship.

Get to know each other

  • Both the mentor and the mentee will come from different backgrounds. Each will have different experiences. Get to know each other on a personal level.

Agree on the time commitment and define expectations

  • The Mentee should have some idea of the goals they would like to accomplish. Let the mentor know what you would like from them. No surprises!
  • The Mentor understands when they commit to helping a mentee, they commit to following through. Understand the mentee’s goals and how you can help achieve them. If the mentee emails, texts or calls you, have a pre-determined SLA on response.

Establish and maintain open, honest communications

  • The Mentee should be honest with the mentor. If you’re having issues at work, let them know. Maybe there are concerns at home you’d like to share. If you don’t understand something or have a differing opinion than your mentor, tell them.
  • The Mentor should be honest in their communication, but tactful. Remember, this person wants to be better.

Be supportive, but not directive

  • Mentee, remember what the mentor says is a recommendation. Use it as a guide and tailor it to the situation you’re currently experiencing.
  • Mentor, offer advice and think through the scenarios that could play out when responding to the mentee. You’re offering advice to help them, not telling them what to do.

Actively listen and ask thoughtful questions

  • Both parties should listen and ask good, thought-provoking questions. This is easy in theory, but hard in reality.
  • Be sure to limit distractions during these meetings so you both have each other’s full attention. Silence that phone!

Be consistent

  • Meet at an agreed-upon interval (I recommend monthly at a minimum). Neither person will want to go months without hearing from each other. If it is time to end the mentoring relationship, be sure that is clearly understood.
  • Be consistent in your mood. One issue I’ve had in the past is I didn’t know which version of a mentor I was meeting; the empathetic one that listened and helped or the grumpy one that told me I had to do something a certain way, otherwise I’d fail.

Keep a positive outlook

  • Mentee, when meeting with your mentor, remember they’re there to help, not criticize you. Even if things are tough, try to stay positive so the mentor feels like they’re helping.
  • Mentor, call out the great work the mentee has done. Showing them the growth they’ve made helps boost their confidence!

I’ve kept all these points in mind as I start to mentor a new person, one who was asked to manage various projects for her quickly-growing company. We meet regularly. We’re honest with each other. And the best part is, she’s been able to grow in her career and I’ve felt privileged being part of that!

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