The Mentoring Series: Part 2 – Top Tips For Mentees

Reading time: 12 minutes

Kathryn: Hi there, this is Kathryn from the Learn, Grow Succeed podcast. In today’s podcast we’ll be following on from the last episode on mentoring in the second of this two-part series, if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, now is a great time to pause and go back an episode. And that episode looked into the practical tips of being a mentor.

Today, we’ll be focusing on the other side of the equation. Discussing practical tips for mentees. Both episodes are equally important for both mentors and mentees. Before we get going, if you’re new here then welcome. Thanks for joining. We’ll always provide a transcript for our podcasts over on the Excel Communications website, where you’ll also find other leadership resources to help you develop your capabilities. Do  remember sign up for our email updates if you’d like to gain more top tips and insights to develop yourself.

So today we’re talking about mentees and we’re really lucky to be able to welcome back Karin. Hello again, Karin! Thank you so much for joining us for part two of this series on mentoring. How are you doing today?

Karin: I’m very well, I’m really glad to be back and talk about the other side of the coin.

Kathryn: Absolutely. And as we mentioned in the last episode, I think whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, both sides, it’s useful to listen to tips about them both, so you understand it from both people’s perspective.

In the last episode we discussed sort of how organizations benefit from having mentoring programs in place. How to get a piece of the action if you’re not part of it yet. And also three top tips for mentors. So this time we’re focusing much more on the mentee side of the equation as we mentioned. Let’s start from the beginning, if you are interested in mentoring, how could you get started as a mentee?

Karin: The same thing applies, I think when we talked about becoming a mentor, I said, be proactive and don’t wait until somebody invites you to form a mentoring program. And absolutely the same thing applies if you find one to find mentors for yourself, so I’d say be proactive.

And remember that those informal mentoring relationships are often the most powerful ones because they are a lot more organic. It’s just two people who want to work with each other deciding to enter this mentoring relationship together. So it can be incredibly powerful.

So don’t wait, but, and here’s the but, before you actually can go and approach anyone to be your mentor, I think you have to take a big step back. And I think that’s something that we often forget. So I think the first thing that you need to do is figure out what you actually want. So it’s really getting some clarity around what’s your long-term goal? What does success actually look like for you. I appreciate that this isn’t easy. For most people this is incredibly hard. I can certainly remember when I was in my corporate roles I had very well-meaning line managers who quite regularly ask me, where do you want to be in 10 years time? And I was always dreading the question because I actually had no idea how to answer it. I could not see how the world of roads would develop and I have found it really hard to fast-forward this far and have a have a good answer. And I think that’s probably true for most people, but I also now realize that it really is key to having a good career development plan to be able to answer that question. We have to do that work and we have to do a little bit of homework before we can even think about approaching anyone for mentoring. So as a minim, I’d say look five years ahead if you can’t look any further, ideally, I would look much further ahead, but at least think about what’s the role after the next one. So that gives you more than just the next promotion, but it’ll make you think about what’s the longer term direction that you want to go in and I think that is a great starting point to have.

If you don’t really know where to start, I’d say start with the big stuff and go back to what’s your purpose? What are your values? What gets you excited in life? And think about what that might mean for your career. So one day when you retire, what do you want to see when you look back and what do you have to see to be able to say I’ve done well here. I’ve been successful in what I set out to do. So, you might not be able to identify job titles necessarily, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Think about what kind of roles you would like to have in the longer term. So think about if you want to be in a formal leadership position. Would you prefer to be an expert and an individual contributor, which one suits you better? Or you can think about what industry do you want to work in? What kind of organization do you see yourself having a career in, a large corporate? Do you much prefer a startup environment or do you even want to run your own business? All those things are really good data. And it’s really good to be clear about that and formalize that to a point, the more clarity you have, the more intentional you can be about your career choices and your development choices.

It doesn’t need to be perfect. And I think it’ll changes and it’ll shift. Certainly when I look back over my life, I remember when I was in school, I was convinced I wanted to be a journalist. Then I actually went into corporate communications, corporate responsibility and sustainability in my corporate career. And then in my forties, I pivoted again. And I’m now in leadership development and that’s fine. The more we go through life and the more we learn about ourselves, our strengths, what we really enjoyed doing, our priorities change life around us changes. So that North star that we’ve identified, we’re probably shift and that’s fine. So keep it under review, but define what success looks like with the data that you have available today. And from that you can make a development plan. You can work through what are the kinds of skills that you want to, or need to develop to move closer to that vision of success. So think what technical skills do you need to develop? What leadership skills? And that’s the first step before you can even think about approaching anyone for mentoring. But once you’ve got the clarity, I think you’re ready.

Kathryn: I think you’re so right with that, Karin, you know, being agile in what you’re doing at the moment but keeping that focus on the long term and kind of all of the skills and development areas that you need in order to contribute to that in the long-term is definitely the most important thing.

I know you mentioned your journey there… mine started in environmental science and went through clinical science and now into sort of more relationships, I suppose. So it’s always about having those things in your mind that you know that you’re heading towards whatever the current role might be. And as you say, job titles shift, companies change, corporate culture changes over time. So making sure that you’ve got that big goal in mind, is definitely the key. So with all of those things in mind, and once you’ve got your North star, how do you go about finding a mentor?

Karin: The good news is I think the hard work is done. If you’ve done your development plan, I think you are more than halfway there because now you can just pick a skill. You can look through that list of skills or experiences that you feel you really want to add to your CV in order to get you closer to your North star and start with one. And I’d always say just pick one that that feels most immediate, most urgent, most inviting and look around you and look for the people that have mastered that skill that you’re hoping to develop. So just to give you a simple example, if you really want to become a better presenter, for example, I’m sure there will be people in your network that are fantastic presenters. Approach them, ask them, how did they work on that skill? Maybe you can even ask them to sit in on one of your presentations and give you some valuable feedback. That’s mentoring. So you can think much broader than just thinking about mentoring relationships in terms of a long process where you meet for an hour every month, etc, etc, it doesn’t have to be that it can be really short, sharp learning experiences where somebody supports you in developing a particular skill. If you want to be a better project manager, look for the rockstar project managers that you know, I’m sure you’ll have some somewhere in your network and see if they might be willing to spend half an hour with you every now and then to talk through your biggest challenges in your project management, maybe you can shadow them or sit in on some of their meetings. So that’s all mentoring. And I think the other thing I would say is think beyond the obvious, we touched on this last time in part one. It’s easy to think that mentors need to be older than us, more senior than us. We often think they should be in our industry or ideally even within our organization. And it depends on the skill that you’re trying to develop, sometimes that’s true. But coming back to the example of presentation skills, your senior leaders might not necessarily be the best presenters themselves. So why would you choose them as a mentor for this particular skill? It might be somebody who’s just joined the company and is brand new and might be 10 years younger than you. But who’s really mastered that skill. So look beyond the obvious, look outside of your organization. If you are working on mental resilience, for example, maybe you’re not even looking for a professional, maybe working for an athlete, somebody who runs marathons. Or somebody with a military background, they might be the better people to mentor you on those skills.

So think beyond the obvious as you’re looking for those mentors. And remember that you can have more than one. There’s absolutely nothing that that bans you from not approaching different people for different skills that you want to develop. And you can absolutely work with a nber of people on different skills and at different points in time.

So the most important thing really is to ask. I always think what’s the worst that can happen you know, somebody says no, in which case you’ve shown initiative, they probably remember you for that and you’ll find somebody else.

Kathryn: Often that’s also the best way to find recommendations as well because people don’t tend to like saying no without giving an alternative solution a lot of the time. So I think you’re absolutely right there. Being open-minded definitely around sort of diversity of mentors that you can pick that might be someone from your peer group or not even from your organization, as you say, I’ve met plenty of people at networking events in my time, who’ve gone on to kind of mentor me in different areas and that’s something that’s so, so vital. I know in the COVID world, it’s slightly different, but who knows how that’ll change and evolve in the future.

Karin: Actually, I think COVID in many ways is our friend in this, right? Because I think back in the days when we were all in offices, it was often much harder to meet with someone because there was an expectation that it would be a face-to-face meeting and, you know, you would need to align diaries and that would be much, much harder. I think now that, you know, we’re all stuck in home offices, in our front of screens, in a way it can be easier to ask somebody to hop on a call with you for 15 minutes and pick their brains. So COVID can be an advantage in this.

Kathryn:  Particularly on a global stage, you know, your mentoring possibilities have just opened up across the planet because you’re expected to have that virtual communication aren’t you? So it does make such a difference. And I think the way of working has changed forever in that sense. So it’s definitely an advantage in this situation.

So Karin, it would be really great to hear your three top tips for mentees that anyone listening to this can take away and sort of implement straight away. What would be your first top tip?

Karin: I think the first one it’s kind of obvious, but I think it’s good to put it on the list is make your mentor’s life really easy. So, yes, good mentoring is always a two-way street. And I mentioned in part one that I’ve certainly always learned from my mentees, but at the same time, I think the balance is too that they are supporting you more than you are supporting them. So, yeah. I think in return, you should really make their lives easy. You should take full ownership of the relationship. I think you should be the one organizing the meetings, doing all the boring part of a mentoring relationship. Be really flexible work around their schedule. Don’t cancel on them, all that stuff. It might seem obvious, but I think it’s really important that your mentor just has a good experience and thinks that was enjoyable and really easy. And I think it would also mean that if you’re looking for other mentors, you will have a reputation of somebody who people want to mentor. So make your mentors life easy and respect those boundaries. If you’ve listened to part one we talk quite a bit about how important it is to really be aligned in terms of your expectations, but also the boundaries. And so, I would just like to repeat this here because it’s so important that you are clear and that you are in agreement and that you then respect it, respect those boundaries.

Kathryn: So number one is make your mentor’s life easy with that ownership and flexibility. And as you say, almost respect, isn’t it, respect for each other’s time and making sure that that’s pivotal to the foundation of your relationship. So what would be your second top tip?

Karin: My second one is probably the most important one and that is, be prepared. And when I talk about preparedness in this context, there’s really two areas that I think everybody should think about. The first one is mindset.

Being mentored is hard and it should be hard. It’s a learning experience and a good mentor will push you. They will push you out of your comfort zone. They will give you feedback that might not always be easy to hear. They will really challenge you. So as a mentee, make sure that you are coming with a mindset that allows you to really show up and be honest and receive that feedback and be pushed and be challenged. And be ready to truly learn and step into that learning space.

That’s the first one, but the second one is equally important is just preparing for each conversation and making the most of the time that you’re having together. So I would suggest you always take about 10 minutes before you enter into a conversation with your mentor and just go through a little checklist, right. What’s working for you in terms of the skill that you are working on. What’s really challenging. What’s really difficult. And what have you done since the last time you’ve spoken to them and how did that go? What are you hoping to get from your mentor in this particular conversation that’s coming up? So what’s the issue that you want to tackle to make sure that you really maximize the value of the time that you have together. So make sure you come prepared, check your mindset, and really think about what you’re trying to do in the conversation that you’re entering.

Kathryn: As you say that will go so far to making sure that you just make the most of the relationship that you’re forging together.Thank you so much. So what would be your last top tip for mentees?

Karin: The last one is work really hard and learn. I think there’s nothing more rewarding for a mentor. And I think again, I mentioned this in part one than to really be part of somebody else’s growth and success. And as a mentee, I think you almost always want your mentor to really work hard and master those skills that you’re working on together and succeeding. So that will be my last one, deliver.

Kathryn: The easiest one of all of course. So, thanks again, Karin, for sharing so much knowledge over the last two episodes from all of your expertise in both your career in corporate and your career in leadership development. I know I’ve learnt a few things that are new to me.

Do you have any kind of further advice or knowledge nuggets that you’d like to share before we wrap up here?

Karin: Maybe just one more thing. So I’d like to kind of take us back to the very beginning of our conversation in part one. And again, those of you that have listened to this, will remember that I talked about my first experience with mentoring and how I was asked a year into my management trainee program to mentor somebody else and how petrified I was and how I did it anyway. And I learned that I could mentor! So I think that’s something that I want to leave everyone with anyone can be a mentor and I believe everybody should be a mentor. So if you are listening to this episode and you are very much thinking about finding a mentor for yourself. Don’t forget that irrespective of where you are in your career, there will be someone who would massively benefit from learning from you and from your experience and from your skill sets. When it comes to mentoring, I always say, you know, you should have many mentors, but equally you should also be one. So I would encourage everyone to also look for opportunities to mentor others and pay it forward .

Kathryn:  I think that sentence summarises these two episodes perfectly. So have many and be one. Everyone should remember that as they move forward with their mentoring endeavors. Thank you again, Karin, for everything you shared. And I look forward to hearing from you, the listeners, about how your mentoring relationships develop over the next few months.

Karin: You’re very welcome

Kathryn:  Thanks again for joining us today. I trust you’ve gained a few new insights on mentoring and you’ll keep in touch to let us know about your mentoring or mentee-ing successes. If you’d like to develop your leadership style and empower your teams or fancy taking a look at some of the traits of great leaders, do head over to our blogs or look at our website for loads of free resources that will inspire you further, you can reach out to me directly through LinkedIn by a private message or just drop a message on the contact form on our website.

So that’s it for me today. Kathryn have a fab day wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Bye for now.