The Role of the Mentee–Making the most from the mentoring relationship

I am grateful that anyone reads my thoughts and ideas. My aim is is to try to respond to your issues. I am glad even those not on the career track get something out of my blog. Always interested in your thoughts and suggestions. Here's a comment about last week's posting. 

I love your blog, John.

But not for the reasons you intend, possibly.  I am not on a "career track."  I'm not trying to "advance my brand," (my comment upon which term I'll keep to myself…you can thank me later).

But I love it anyway.  For me, these are not lessons for being successful in a corporate environment, but for being as fully human as possible.  "Say hello.  Smile.  Ask how someone is doing.  Listen to the answer."  All good, basic stuff…and stuff we've somehow lost track of in our current mad rush toward survival or success.  JW

Check out this story about Anonymous charitable networking/mentoring, an inspiring story about donors who want to help others in need and trigger a chain reaction of acts of kindness, Passing it Along. Sometimes we will never know the ones we mentor or help. That's what charity is all about. 


Understanding the expectations of any side of a relationship facilitates its effectiveness. Whether you are a mentor or mentee, it is critical you consider and respect the role of the other. You know the old adage about walking in another's shoes to understand their perspective. I remember at my daughter Jenna's middle school graduation one of her classmates said, "I have learned that by walking a mile in a stranger's shoes that I will be a mile from home in someone else's shoes." 🙂 I prefer the less literal meaning…..

This chart shows the requirements of both roles, notice the similarities.  





Convene, initiate, engage, listen

Respond, initiate, prepare, listen

Honest feedback

Honest revelations


Receptive to feedback

Be available

Respect the time

Hub of resources and references

Seek ways to assist your mentor


Clearly, the process of choosing the right mentor is essential. Once a mentee finds a compatible/potential mentor, the roles are often defined by the MENTEE. Not always, but frequently the mentor is looking for guidance on how they can help. Some have a set process, but most want to know what you want. In those cases, the mentee has to take the initiative. Too often, the mentee thinks they show up with eagerness and listen and the pearls of wisdom will flow. I have encountered numerous mentees that found their mentoring relationship to be less than expectations, mainly because the mentor was unresponsive to their needs. With notable exceptions, mentees defer–out of some assumption that the relationship is a lecture with a Q and A session. Often mentees have no idea what they want and hope that clarity and a sense of direction will emerge from the conversations. When the mentee has sharp question, questions about possible directions/paths/career life choices, then the mentor can be focused about her views and experiences and most importantly, help the mentee understand why they are asking these questions.

8 Habits of Effective Mentees (apologies to S. Covey)

Be Proactive–Assert your agenda, who you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Which presumes you have questions and a set of goal assumptions. 

The "I was hoping you would tell me what to do" strikes both fear and loathing in the heart of the mentor. 

2.     Begin with the end in mind–What are you aiming for? What is your vision or your general direction. And why? 

Put first things first–What are your burning questions/choices? What is important to you now? Are there current issues, challenges that need to be addressed to advance your progress? 

Think win/win–How can you help one another? These sessions should evolve into give and takes. In what ways can you assist your mentor? Clues will be given in your sessions. Information she is seeking, charities she supports, causes she follows, hobbies she pursues. Your interest in the mentor's priorities will deepen the relationship and broaden your understanding of the mentor and her success. Please do not misconstrue this with material gifts or birthday presents! 

Seek first to understand then
to be understood
–You are there for advice–listen! Find the lessons that are being conveyed. Be open to learn things you did not expect. Sometimes a specific agenda disables the mentee from out of the box mentoring moments.

Synergize–The real premise behind mentoring or any great conversation with a trusted colleague is new ideas are forged. 

Renew thyself—Sharpen the saw–When the process works it will energize you. The process of finding what you want and more about who you will give you new strength and momentum.

8.     Find your voice and inspire others–Define and discover your uniqueness and make a commitment to teach others. Teach what you learn to others you care about, which will deepen your understanding. That's how we keep the mentoring lifecycle going.

In many ways, being a mentee has more burden than the mentor. Mentees have to walk the razor's edge of testing their ideas and questions and listening and incorporating the guidance of the mentor. In my mind both are enjoyable, both yield powerful benefits to those who take the roles and responsibilities seriously. And in the end we pass it along. 

Thanks for reading. John

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