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What is Mentoring

Mentoring is a partnership between two people which supports personal and/or professional development between a less experienced individual, called a mentee, and a more experienced individual known as a mentor. Over the course of your career, you may have many mentors and mentees. These relationships may last years, months, weeks or days.

Mentoring may come in bits and pieces as needed by the mentee; or it may be that a mentor and mentee choose to have a standing, weekly meeting time where they discuss a variety of topics.  It depends upon what works best for both people.

An individual may seek a mentor for a variety of reasons:

  • To learn a new technical skill
  • To learn or develop a competency
  • To develop leadership or management skills
  • To assist in career transitions such as: new roles, changing jobs, or different organization structure

This guide will step you through the mentoring process. A successful mentor/mentee engagement begins with purposeful planning and ensuring both parties are engaged in the learning goals and relationship.

I. Establishing Learning Goals
II. Identifying Potential Mentors
III. Approaching  a Mentor
IV. Understanding Roles
V. Tips for Mentees
VI. Ending Engagement
VII. Learning More about Mentoring

I. Establishing Learning Goals

The first step in the process is for the mentee to establish their particular learning goals. Sometimes these goals emerge though feedback on a performance appraisal or development plan.  And sometimes goals emerge as a result of the mentee having a realistic vision of where they want to be in their career a few years in the future. The following tool provides some examples of learning goals individuals may be seeking.

LEARNING INTEREST EXAMPLE POSSIBLE LEARNING GOALS
Strengthening financial skills. I want to provide useful financial and statistical information such as financial reports, performance reports and metrics analysis. This skill would better help me quantify the worth of my ideas. Where do I start?
  • Identify gaps in financial knowledge base
  • Identify gaps in use of financial software tools
  • Observe interactions in  departmental budget meetings and project-setting meetings to assess appropriate level of information to present
Managing conflict in the workplace I work with competitive people who argue their points (professionally) and often get what they want. I back down on my opinions almost immediately because I want to avoid the stress I feel about conflict, but I’ve lost out on assignments I’ve wanted because of this behavior. How do I change?
  • Observe “conflict” that is effective and you perceive as respectful and translate it into a process
  • Obtain knowledge about conflict management skills
  • Involve yourself in a project or task that promises to put you in situations of conflict
Seeking a Leadership Position I would like to become a Director in the next few years.  I have seen others promoted into these roles.  What do I need to do to get noticed?
  • Gain an understanding of the organizational political landscape
  • Identify skill gaps that may be preventing upward movement
  •  Develop a proposal for promotion conversation
Assimilating into my new role I finally got a job that is aligned with my degree and I want to perform well. Fund-raising is one part of the job that I have not done before.  What should I do to get up and running fast?
  • Secure basic information on approach, tools and metrics
  • Observe others as they engage with prospective donors
  • Identify a particular donor and create a script for your request

II. Identifying a potential mentor

Once you have identified your learning goals, it will be easier to select a mentor.  There are several ways you can go about finding one. 

  • Internal to the university: The university has an abundance of talented staff.  Do some research to see who has expertise in your area of interest.  Make a point of regularly reviewing the university home page, Know and The Daily Texan to stay on top of current events and people involved in those events.
  • External to the university: If your preference is to have a mentor outside of the university, you can use the web and contact relevant professional organizations to find potential mentors.  And, consider doing an Advanced People Search on LinkedIn. For example, maybe you think that someone from your undergraduate alma mater might be more inclined to enter into a mentoring relationship with you.  You would type in your university and a title that your potential mentor may have such as Human Resource Director or Vice-President of Marketing, etc., and then focus the search on your zip code or city.
  • Networking: Take advantage of networking activities. Networking involves using the people you know and people they know to help with a search for a mentor.  Let people know that you are looking for a mentor, and articulate the type of mentor that would work well for you. Consider seeking the assistance of someone who knows a lot of people or knows the person you wish to have mentor you. Find out from them the best way to connect with the potential mentor or even ask them to help with the initial introduction.

III. Approaching a potential mentor

Once you have found a couple of prospective mentors, you will need to engage with them and eventually make your request for their attention.  Some quick DOs and one DON’T to consider:

DO:

  • Have an initial, get-to-know-you discussion(s) with a potential mentor before asking them to commit to you.  Meet to ask advice on one or two items, show who you are, have a good sense of who they are and then ask.
  • Communicate why you would like them to be your mentor by explaining what you respect about them.  For example, “I value that you are able to hold a senior position at (company) and also find time to actively volunteer for (name of a non-profit organization).”  Whatever you say must be genuine and demonstrate that you have really thought about why they are the one for you.
  • Share where you want to go in life and in your career and why their experience and advice will help you. Show passion and potential.
  • Communicate what type of mentoring relationship you want.  Discuss the type of advice or feedback you hope to receive and how often you’d like to interact (once a month, once a quarter, ad-hoc, etc.).  If your mentor suggests something different, consider adapting – after all, some of this person’s attention will be better than none.

DON’T:

  • Take a “no” personally.  People are busy and the chemistry might be off. Go to the next person on your list.

VI. Understanding Roles

If we think of a mentoring relationship as a project, the mentee is the project manager.  It is primarily their job to establish learning objectives, keep on task and timeline and evaluate the quality of the relationship.  As with any relationship, both parties have a role to play.  Some of those responsibilities include:

Mentor Responsibilities Mentee Responsibilities
  • Act as a role model
  • Help identify skill gaps and challenge the mentee
  • Provide safe risk-taking environment
  • Encourage exploration of ideas and risk taking in learning
  • Serve as a source of information and resources
  • Refrain from seeing yourself as one who must know all. Instead, ask questions, facilitate mentee’s thinking.
  • Hold mentee accountable
  • Be aware of signals indicating it may be time to end the relationship
  • Keep commitments you make with your mentor
  • Take the initiative in the relationship
  • Be open to receiving feedback and coaching
  • Take responsibility for your own professional growth and development
  • Seek challenging assignments
  • Renegotiate the mentoring relationship when your needs change

V. Tips for Mentees

There are several ways a mentee can assist their mentor in building a productive relationship:

  • Be willing and able to let your mentor know what you need.
  • Be clear with your needs; don't beat around the bush--your mentor's time is valuable.
  • Feel comfortable with your mentor.
  • Trust your mentor and be willing to be open with him or her.
  • Be ready and willing to develop and change yourself.

Additionally, you can help your mentor be a sounding board and a person who leads you to solve your own problems. As you begin working together, you might say something to set the tone for your exchanges with your mentor, such as:

“I have a situation going on in my department that I’d like to talk with you about.  I have some ideas of actions to take that might be helpful and I am hoping that you will listen to my ideas and then ask me some questions to help me settle on the best first step to take. How does that sound?”

As a mentee, strive to be self-aware. Try exploring what words and mannerisms trigger your defenses. Emotional reactions, like feeling a need to protect yourself, may derail your ability to listen for understanding and to receive feedback.  Over the course of the next few weeks, pay attention to conversations you have and what is going on in your gut.  When you feel a reaction that you equate with defensiveness, or anger or embarrassment, etc., ask yourself:

  • What did I hear or observe that triggered it?
  •  Is it the context of the phrase that bothers me?
  •  Is it the tone in which the phrase was said? 
  • What did this situation remind me of?

Once you’ve identified the stumbling blocks for you, you can work on desensitizing yourself and eventually those words or terms or tones lose their power to distract you from receiving feedback.  If you would like assistance in exploring how to move past some of the stumbling blocks, you might consider enlisting the free, confidential services of the counselors at the university’s Employee Assistance Program.

Most mentors feel their time mentoring is well spent when they see they are helping a mentee achieve their goals and that they are making a difference in an aspect of someone’s life. Given this, mentees will want to express genuine thanks to their mentors along with specific examples of what the mentor did that was helpful. 

VI. Ending Engagement

Be vigilant in regularly assessing how the mentoring relationship is working. There will come a time when the mentor/mentee partnership will no longer be productive for the mentor, mentee, or both.  For some, discussions may begin feeling more like idle chatter rather than purposeful conversation.  For others, the goals and objectives of the mentee may simply have been met.  Mentors and mentees often stay in touch after the actual partnership ends and their relationship evolves into something different; an end doesn’t have to mean the two of you will no longer interact.  Some suggestions for closing out a partnership:

  • Talk about what you are noticing that makes you think the partnership is at a transition point. 
  • If the mentee has learned what he or she has wanted, express that and celebrate.
  • Even if not all objectives have been met for one reason or another, find some positives of the mentoring relationship to highlight.  What has each person gained or learned? Give examples.
  • Be direct, tactful, caring, but assert your desire to either change the dynamics of the relationship or end it.
  • Tie up loose ends if there are any.

VII. Learning More about Mentoring

Shea, Gordon F., Mentoring: How to Develop Successful Mentor Behaviors (2002)

Maxwell, John C., Mentoring 101 (2008)

Ensher, Ellen A. and Murphy, Susan E., Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Proteges Get the Most out of their Relationships (2005)

Zachary, Lois, The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You (2009)

Merlevede, Patrick and Bridoux, Denis, Mastering Mentoring and Coaching with Emotional Intelligence: Increase your Job EQ (2004)