What does it take to be an effective mentoree? Yes, you read that right. This article is about the work of being mentored. Being mentored sounds passive, but effective mentorees aren’t waiting to be transformed. They are actively engaged and working in their mentoring experience.
Mentorees will often hear that they should “drive the mentoring relationship.” Taking initiative, being prepared, acting on suggestions, and following up are obvious ways to take the wheel. However, there are more subtle behaviors that can make a mentoree more effective in their mentoring work. Below are some ways to take your mentoree role to the next level.
Know your “why.” Many mentorees come to the mentoring relationships with a list of short- and long-term goals to work toward but may have spent less time evaluating their underlying motives. Improving your communications skills is a specific, achievable goal, but understanding what you hope to gain from doing so creates a different level of intention and opportunity for growth. Do you want to become a better communicator because you hope to become more persuasive, expand your influence, form connections, or strengthen relationships? If you are still unsure what you would like to accomplish in the mentoring program, take a moment to envision where (or who) you would like to be in three to five years. Ask yourself what it is about that future version of yourself that appeals to you—are you more successful, more confident, more influential? Understanding what is driving you will help you figure out what to focus on and how to steer your mentoring experience.
Communicate your needs. Once you pinpoint your underlying drivers, the next step is to communicate them clearly to your mentor. Be specific about what you want to achieve and how you would like your mentor to help. If all you know is that you want to be more successful or feel more accomplished, don’t be afraid to ask your mentor to help you figure out what that means and where to start. Establishing what you hope to gain provides a starting point to help you and your mentor chart different potential paths. The more you clarify your goals and communicate your needs, the more effective your mentor (and you) can be.
Ask questions. Effective mentorees ask questions—and thoughtfully consider the answers. Ask your mentor questions about business processes or skills you want to master, challenges you want to overcome, experiences you want to gain. Ask them questions even when the answer seems obvious or when you already have an idea or set view of things. Asking questions opens the door for new ideas and perspectives, which is a good thing when you are looking to develop and grow. The mentoring relationship provides a safe space. Take advantage of that open forum and unfettered access to the views of a seasoned, experienced mentor.
Welcome and accept feedback. Being an effective recipient of feedback is key to being an effective mentoree. In fact, the ability to receive—and actively seek—feedback is key to being successful in any role. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to accept feedback that is less than a raving endorsement of how we would like others to see us. Even when we ask for it, constructive criticism can generate internal resistance that leads us to push the feedback away. In their book “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well,” authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen urge readers to focus on cultivating a “pull attitude” toward feedback. They write, “Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity….” Ask for your mentor’s feedback and be ready to consider it fully—what makes sense about it, what seems worth trying, what might they be right about, how could you apply it? If you struggle to accept feedback despite your best efforts, this may be an important area to focus on during the program. “Thanks for the Feedback” and other books on the topic can be a great starting point for mentoring conversations and work around this crucial skill.
Be grateful. Countless studies have shown that gratitude can change our brains, our lives, and our very selves. Showing appreciation can lead to deeper connections, increase prosocial behavior, improve self-esteem, and enhance mental strength. These gains align with successful, effective mentoring. We all have the capacity to cultivate gratitude and focus on what we already have, not just what we are striving for. Be grateful for your mentor’s time, advice, feedback, and suggestions. Be grateful for stretch assignments and networking opportunities. Be grateful for mistakes that enable learning, challenges that facilitate growth, and the achievement of goals, big and small. In each mentoring activity, look for opportunities to feel gratitude and express appreciation.