Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable provides a view inside six successful mentoring conversations that take place over 90 days. The reader is privy to the thoughts and reflections of both the mentor and mentee, and gets to observe the personal dynamics of a successful mentoring relationship as it unfolds. It’s an excellent training resource because it models how good mentoring should look and feel.
Cynthia is one of the mentors you meet in the book. She is an experienced mentor who is committed to her own growth and development as a mentor and the growth and development her mentees.
The story of Cynthia and her Gen-Y mentee unfolds over 90 days (six mentoring meetings) and you get to sit in on each of them. You will hear their private thoughts before, during and after their meetings. At the end of each chapter, you will find questions to prompt personal reflection and spark conversation about the chapter content.
Cynthia learned the hard way about how to create a successful mentoring partnership. After a few failed mentoring relationships of her own, she grew from the experience. By the time she launched her next relationship, she was savvier and had a clearer understanding of what it takes to achieve tangible results.
What made the difference for Cynthia? What did she do differently that made her more successful?
In Starting Strong, you will learn about Cynthia’s strategies for mentoring success:
1. Cynthia recognizes that her mentee will be uneasy as the more junior employee, mentored by a senior executive. She takes time to get to know him and put him at ease before launching into the work of mentoring.
2. Some key structures and agreements help set the tone and expectations for progress and accountability. The mentee, who is new to mentoring, thought mentoring was an informal drop-in relationship.
3. Learning is the purpose and product of mentoring — and its goals drive the learning. Mentors and mentees alike struggle with goal setting. It can be tempting for mentees to pick goals they can easy achieve or that aren’t relevant to their work success.
4. Application of skills and learning are a critical part of mentee success.
5. Stumbling blocks are inevitable in mentoring relationships. Mentors and mentees need a confidential, safe place to get coaching around issues that surface.
6. The 90 day mark is an excellent time to schedule a check-in with mentoring partners.
The conversation playbook guides you so that you can engage in parallel conversation with Cynthia and her mentee. It prepares you for your mentoring sessions by suggesting appropriate conversation topics, starters and probing questions to use to build a solid foundation for your own mentoring relationships during the first 90 days.
We recently talked about the top ten best practices for mentors. But what about the mentees? Don’t worry, we have you covered!
Here are top ten mentee best practices from our 2015 Mentoring Matters Reader Survey:
1. Focus on achieving learning goals
- Learning is the purpose and the payoff of mentoring. It’s easy to get sidetracked and lose focus. After three cups of coffee and little work on leadership development, mentoring fizzles out. Goals help you stay focused, moving in a positive direction, and benchmark your progress.
2. Expect to drive the mentoring relationship
- Mentors are not mind readers. Be prepared to ask for what you need, when you need it. They won’t know what you need unless you tell them.
3. Create SMART goals that will contribute to your development
- Fuzzy goals result in fuzzy outcomes. Make sure your goals are crystal clear to you and your mentor. Goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.
4. Be authentic, open and honest
- Your willingness to be vulnerable makes a significant difference in your growth and development. If you pretend that all is perfect, your mentor will never get to know the real you, and you will miss out on real learning opportunities.
5. Prepare for all mentoring meetings
- Advance preparation for mentoring sessions will save time, make meetings more efficient and result in more meaningful learning.
6. Stay connected and in communication with your mentor
- Utilize multiple ways to stay connected to your mentor. Regular and consistent communication is the name of the game, whether it’s face-to-face, email, Skype or telephone calls, the operative word is “and.”
7. Be willing to stretch and step out of your comfort zone
- Expect your mentor to challenge you with questions and learning opportunities that might take you outside your comfort zone. They may initially make you uncomfortable, but the stretch is what will maximize your learning.
8. Ask for specific feedback
- Your mentor’s honest and candid feedback will contribute to your self-awareness and get you to the next level. Practice asking for specific feedback and be prepared to receive it without being defensive. Share feedback with your mentor and act on what you hear.
9. Focus on the future
- It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day issues instead of focusing on your future. Keep in mind that mentoring creates momentum towards your future development. Be prepared to articulate your vision for yourself so that you and your mentor can create strategies for your future success.
10. Keep a journal
- You will want to make notes of conversations that reflect your learning, and also track your mentoring progress. A journal is a great place to record insights and questions in preparation for mentoring meetings. Although keeping a journal requires discipline and practice, it’s well worth the effort.
If you have other best practices that you’d like to add, please let us know!
Our recent annual Mentoring Matters Reader Survey revealed dozens of best practice topics. This blog is the first in our series of mentoring best practice posts soon to follow. Based on our survey results, here are the top ten:
- Start by getting to know your mentee
- Make sure you take time to get to know your mentee before you jump into the work of mentoring. Nothing of substance will happen until you establish a trusting relationship.
- Establish working agreements
- Agreements lay the foundation of a mentoring relationship. Build in basic structures about how you will work together moving forward. Make sure you and your mentee agree on ground rules.
- Focus on developing robust learning goals
- The purpose of mentoring is to learn. Learning is also the payoff. Make sure the mentee’s learning goals are worthy of your time and effort. Developing robust learning goals takes time and good conversation.
- Balance talking and listening
- It’s easy and natural to want to give advice, especially because you’ve “been there and done that.” But mentees want more than good advice. They want you to listen to their ideas as much as they want to hear what you have to say.
- Ask questions rather than give answers
- Take the time to draw out a mentee’s thinking and get them to reflect on their own experience. Ask probing questions that encourage them to come up with their own insights.
- Engage in meaningful and authentic conversation
- Strive to go deeper than surface conversation. Share your own successes and failures as well as what you are learning from your current mentoring relationship.
- Check out assumptions and hunches
- If you sense something is missing or not going well, you are probably right. Address issues as soon as possible. Simply stating, “I want to check out my assumption which is … ” will prevent you from assuming your mentee is on track.
- Support and challenge your mentee
- Work on creating a comfortable relationship first before you launch into the uncomfortable stretch needed for deep learning. Mentees need to feel supported (comfortable) and yet be challenged (a little uncomfortable) in order to grow and develop.
- Set the expectation of two-way feedback
- Candid feedback is a powerful trigger for growth and change. Set the expectation early on. Be prepared to offer candid feedback, balanced with compassion. Model how to ask for and receive good feedback by asking your mentee for specific feedback on your own mentoring contribution.
- Check in regularly to stay on track
- Keep connected and develop a pattern of regular engagement. Both partners need to be accountable for following through with agreements. By holding an open, honest conversation about how you’re doing and what you need to do to improve, you encourage mutual accountability and deepen the relationship.
What do you think? Did we miss any best practices? Let us know!
Keep a lookout for our next blog later this month, Top Ten Best Practices for Mentees.
In a recent survey conducted through our Center for Mentoring Excellence, listening emerged as the top mentoring best practice. Readers of our monthly e-letter, Mentoring Matters, also identified listening as the #1 attribute of a good mentor.
Here’s what they told us about listening:
- Listening at all levels is the most important thing that I do.
- Listening to others and helping them find their own way.
- Listen with an open mind without being judgmental.
- Truly listen so assumptions are not being made.
- Listen fully and carefully before offering your advice or opinion.
- Spend more time listening than talking.
- Listening and questioning to help my mentee reach their solutions.
- Be authentic, be warm, be honest and be an engaged listener.
- Mentors should know themselves well enough to know when their personal strengths or biases cloud the way they listen to and encourage/advise their mentee.
- Hear what is said in between the message, not just listening to what is said.
- Read, observe, listen and ask lots of questions
There is a clear message here about the importance of listening.
Listening serves many purposes in addition to letting mentees know that you care. Listening builds mentee confidence. It lets mentees know they have something meaningful to contribute. Listening encourages them to work out their thinking. Invariably, they arrive at a solution on their own. Mentors often discover that the listening skills they develop through mentoring transfers to other functions, boosting their effectiveness in their other leadership roles.
What can you do to improve your skill at listening?
- Identify the good listeners you know.
- What do they do that shows they are listening?
Make a list of those behaviors and then gauge how you measure up.
- What do you need to do more of?
- What do you need to do less of?
- What is one thing you can work on right now that will help you develop and hone your listening skills?