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Six Tips to Get the Most from Mentoring

Six Tips to Get the Most from Mentoring

It takes a village to raise a successful career and each village needs a mentor. Successful leaders, such as Oprah Winfrey, Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric), and Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox), talk about mentoring as critical to their success.

If it worked for them, the rest of us should consider following suit. If you don't have a mentor, find one, and make sure the mentoring relationship is set up to succeed.

Your mentor is paying it forward and she’s chosen you to receive her gift.

Her role is to listen, help you reflect, guide, advise, counsel, offer a different perspective, share wisdom and her own lessons-learned. That’s a lot.

Your role is to make it possible for her to do that.

As former VP of mentoring programs, 3Plus International, I briefed mentor-mentee pairs on how to get the most from mentoring. Feedback from these pairs indicates that the following six tips are key to a successful mentoring experience, for both parties. 

At the beginning:

1.  Set Goals

Share your career, life, and development goals at the outset. Goals inform your mentor as to how she can help. In the absence of goals, mentoring is tactical and deals with whatever comes up around the time of each meeting. This is neither developmental for you, nor fulfilling for your mentor.

2. Talk about Trust and Confidentiality

Mentoring requires trust and confidentiality. You should be able to talk with your mentor about your vulnerabilities, your hopes, your fears, and your mistakes. Go beyond naming trust and confidentiality. Talk about what they mean to each of you.

3. Ask for Feedback

Self-awareness is the first step in achieving any development or improvement goals. Your mentor observes how you “show up.” She sees what you bring and don’t bring to the relationship and to the work of achieving your goals. Ask your mentor to share her feedback with you when she thinks it will help. 

4. Manage the Logistics

Too often, mentoring relationships fall apart because meetings aren’t set up to support the work. Cover these logistics at the beginning:

a. Decide how often you’ll meet – once a month, on average, works well.

b. Find out how to schedule meetings – Does your mentor manage her own calendar or should you work with her administrative assistant? Is email or a phone call best?

c. Will you set a regular meeting time, to be changed if needed?

d. How long is each meeting?

e. What is the duration of the mentoring relationship?

5. Be Prepared

Your mentor's time and wisdom are valuable. Appreciate and get the most from her by showing up prepared. Set your agenda. Know what you want to discuss and how it aligns with your goals. If you agree to complete an assignment, make sure you've done it and are prepared to review what you learned.

6. Review Your progress

You discussed your goals at the beginning of the mentoring relationship. Step back, with your mentor, to talk about how you’re changing, what you’re doing differently, and how the work you’re doing together is helping you progress. Your mentor is paying it forward because she wants to help you succeed. Talking about your progress let’s her know that she’s achieving her goals.

New goals will likely evolve over time, especially if the relationship extends beyond a year. Stepping back allows you and your mentor to see how far you’ve traveled and to identify new goals for the next part of your journey.


Dr. Anne Perschel is a leadership psychologist/coach at Germane Consulting and former VP of Mentoring at 3Plus International.

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