What To Reasonably Expect From A Mentor
Last month, I had the honor of partnering with Power To Fly on a session all about mentoring. What it means, what it really means, and how to get the most out of it. We had over 92 members sign up and many more dropped in!
While we couldn’t get to all the questions in that limited time, I want to address as many as possible right here. This one is also one of my favorites:
“What should I reasonably expect out of a mentor?”
The stories we hear about mentors going the extra mile to land you a promotion or offer you a job are all possible. However, my personal feeling is that these are the exceptions rather than the rule. That’s why when they do happen, everybody talks about it. The silver bullet that changes the direction of an entire career.
I think the reality is a mentor relationship is like any other relationship. There is a gestation period where you get to know one another before either one of you does the other any favors. And you can be a long time in that period.
All relationships are as layered and complex as people themselves.
Unless you are personally related to a potential mentor through friends or family, the fact that they are willing to talk is a wonderful sign of goodwill. This is good news. In a one-on-one situation, I think you can expect that they will be honest with you.
And while we all appreciate the idea of honesty, sometimes the truth can be hard to hear. Amiright?
So hold whatever is said with a grain of salt. Especially if this is a first meeting. They don’t know your whole history, aspirations, and disappointments. They know what they know. Stay focused on extracting that (vs. overthinking what every sentence means for you in the moment) and let their perspective flow over you.
There are a lot of clichés about advice. While related to straight talk, it’s also very specific because advice involves their take on a certain situation you may be dealing with. Tapping into someone else’s past experience, especially if it’s in the same industry, is priceless.
However, I tend to caution mentees to be careful when discussing these topics with internal company mentors. Nobody needs to remind you that words travel fast. Be firm about the hypothetical nature of the question or suggest that a friend (you are your best friend right?) is dealing with an issue that you would like to better understand (on her behalf of course!).
Keep it light and breezy. Like you are collecting data because that’s all you are actually doing.
Try giving our top 10 favorite questions a spin!
Stories From Experience
Whether it’s how to get out of a rut or jumpstart that moonshot idea, mentors draw from their experience. And we can all benefit from an outside opinion. For the record, it’s also possible to get this from coaches, therapists, or the general peanut gallery of your life.
Specifically, I think coaches are a great idea if you know exactly what you want. They are often trained to get you focused and help you achieve your goal, which does not necessarily require them to have ever achieved the exact same goal themselves.
And that’s worth noting: coaches are focused on getting you to a goal. But a mentor can tell you a story about how they reached a similar goal. Both are valuable. It’s important to distinguish your own expectations of the interaction.
Where it goes from that initial meeting is up to both mentor and mentee. For better or for worse, it is a mutual commitment. That takes time.
As a general rule of thumb, I once heard it takes 5 meetings with someone before we feel like we really know someone mutually. Maybe it’s a little as 3 for you, but remember that may not be true for your potential mentor.
Patience is key.
Lastly, plant as many mentor relationships as possible. We all have something to gain from knowing each other better. Stay curious.
I hardly use LinkedIn today, but I still remember when I first created my account. Everyone I was “connected” to worked at the same company. I wrote it off as a little more useful than the company directory. Fast forward a decade later and everybody has moved on.
The point is some relationships (and technology) that feel inconsequential today may be useful in a few years. Keep an open mind. I’m confident the right mentor will appear regardless of your expectations.
“You know, you do need mentors, but in the end, you really just need to believe in yourself.”-Diana Ross