How to Make the Most of Mentoring


November 14, 2019 | By Rich Lawrence, Molly Rapert, Matt Waller, and Jeff Murray

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Mentoring is important to any leader’s professional growth and success, and it’s particularly important to younger generation leaders in today’s more collaborative, knowledge-based work environment. Gallup reports that millennials (born between 1980 and 1996) made a shift and see their supervisors as a “coach” rather than a “boss.” Gen-Zers (born in or after 1997) share a desire for the type of interactive learning that comes from a relationship with a trusted mentor.

To make the most of mentoring, however, the mentor and protégé need a clear understanding of what it is, what it isn’t, and what roles each is expected to play.

Many of the questions about mentoring can be answered with a great, big, “It depends.” Can your mentor be your friend? It depends. Can your mentor be your boss? It depends. Can your mentor come from a different industry? It depends.

You get the idea. Relationships are dynamic and everyone has different goals. But here’s what remains constant: Mentoring is an intentional relationship with a focus on supporting a protégé’s long-term growth and development.

A mentor is a source of wisdom, guidance and support, but not someone who prescribes specific actions or changes. A mentor, in other words, doesn’t tell you where to go and how to get there, but instead helps you figure out your destination and path so you can make the journey yourself. A mentor can help you discover your path, but, at the end of the day, you need to make your own decisions.

What to Look for in a Good Mentor

  • Good mentors understand you. They are good conversationalists who listen carefully and have an ability to relate to your feelings and logic, even if they don’t agree with them.
  • Good mentors believe in you. They see your potential, and care about your personal and professional success. That’s why they are willing to invest time and energy into your life.
  • Good mentors help you move forward. They ask the right questions, draw out insights and help you reason through challenging situations. Good mentors collaborate with you to help you see what you’ve been missing, like why you avoid talking about certain things, and then frame the issue as a source of potential growth.
  • Good mentors create accountability. They hold you accountable to the promises you make to yourself. They are willing to have the hard conversations, to speak the truth even when it is tough and to not sugarcoat statements with irrelevant words – they are straightforward with your best interest at heart.
  • Good mentors build trust. They earn trust by keeping your conversations confidential, but also by the results that come from the relationship. When they ask the right questions at the right time and a lightbulb comes on, you start to trust them. When you can see that your emotions and behaviors are getting stronger, that’s when trust deepens.
  • Good mentors grow with you. A productive mentoring relationship is symmetrical in the sense that it is not authoritarian – the relationship should feel more like a friendship. As mentors tell stories that may help the proteges, they learn things about themselves that change them, as well. It’s a growth-together arrangement, both being changed by the other – learning together, growing together.

Red Flags

Mentoring often creates friendships that last a lifetime, but the actual mentoring relationship typically last only so long as they are productive. It might end because you accomplish certain goals or reach certain milestones, or it might end because the mentor isn’t a good fit.

Ask yourself if you like your mentor and if he or she understands you. Do their comments make immediate sense and do they explain you in ways that make sense? Can they complement or balance your weaknesses? For instance, if you are overly emotional, are they good at explaining emotions to you? Be wary of anyone who insists on overly exploring your past and/or blaming others, including your parents.

Doing Your Part

The greatest value of mentoring happens in between your meetings with your mentor. Challenge yourself every week to overcome some bad habit or to take some risk. Take notes during the sessions and after, and review those notes with your mentor each week. Demonstrate your commitment to the relationship by putting in the hard work, by sharing transparently, by getting out of your comfort zones, and by expressing gratitude for what you’re learning. It’s a co-investment into your future, and you will reap what you sow.

Post Author:

Rich LawrenceRich Lawrence is Vice President of Sales for Special Markets at Helen of Troy.  He has over 30 years of experience in Sales and Marketing management working at Kroger, Norfolk & Southern, ConAgra, CROSSMARK, and Helen of Troy.  Rich has instructed hundreds of industry leaders using a behavior-based leadership model. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, and Executive Education certificates from Wharton, Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and MIT.  He teaches Leadership at the Walton College of Business and is a charter member of the Center for Retailing Excellence advisory board.