Close your eyes. Think about the word "mentee". Do you see Daniel - from The Karate Kid sanding wooden floor and hoping that this weird activity somehow has something to do with learning Karate? Do you see an apprentice following orders? Thanks Hollywood for the cliches. Mentoring is nothing like this.
In the first post of this series I explained why having a companion on your life journey is necessary. And in the second post of this series we demystified the mentor, saw what they are and what they do. In the third post of this series, we discussed the motivations of the mentors for giving their time to others. In this part, we want to talk about the most central role, the mentee.
Where does the mentee comes from?
Mentoring doesn't have to happen in the workplace. And even though it helps, mentor and mentee don’t even have to be from the same industry.
To kick-start a mentoring relationship you need two persons and a common topic. It can take the form of a question that the mentor can or cannot answer. Or it can come from the mentor, in form of a question to the mentee. We will cover the beginning of a mentoring relationship more in details in a further part of this series. But in this regard, the mentee - and the mentor for that matter - can be anyone.
If it doesn't matter where the mentee comes from, what does? Let's have a look at the responsibilities and key skills or characteristics of the mentee.
A mentee of many faces
Mentee have tremendous responsibilities.
Their drive is key to the success of the relationship. A mentoring relationship can start without the mentee realizing it. We will cover this particular case in the next part. But for the relationship to strive, the mentee must overtake control at some point.
Mentees have to be open to feedback. And in order for them to accept this feedback, there must be trust between both parties. And in order for trust to emerge, there must be some kind of chemistry. Only when this trust appears, can the mentees open themselves and speak their mind. Only then can the mentors provide earnest feedback. And only then can mentees hear and accept it.
With trust, goes also loyalty. Loyalty has to be present on both sides of the table for the mentors and mentees to reach a commitment. Both parties have to try and make the relationship work. That means showing up. That means respecting each others time. That means truly listening. That means respecting their respective investment and effort.
Mentees have to to be ready for introspection. Mentees should have decided what they want out of the relationship before it starts. This information would then be decisive in the choice of the mentor. But that's rarely the case. The first mentor will often facilitate this introspective process. So to the very least, the mentee should be ready to introspect with their mentors as they grow.
Last but not least, the best way for a mentee to "repay" their mentor, is to flourish and reach new heights. That means accomplishing great things, including becoming mentor themselves. Seeing a mentee overtaking you is the biggest acknowledgement that a mentor can get. For this to happen, mentees have to have a certain potential.
Like I said, mentee have tremendous responsibilities.
This point is the most problematic. And I've had long discussions with my mentees about it. What is potential? And how do you recognize it?
Potential is hard to define because it is very subjective. Is it someone that could take over your job? Is this someone that could overtake you? Is this someone who could become your equal?
I envision my role as a mentoring multiplier. Which means that I am searching for persons who can become mentors that create mentors. I very well know that acting this way, I ignore 90% of my colleagues that could benefit from mentoring. But that is simple resource management. My days are not extendable.
How do I find those persons? Observation, guts feelings... and a lot of fishing. We will cover this in length in the next part. I stretch my hand again and again with particular questions and see who will bite. Like piranhas fishing... :D
Your mentor acts as a mirror. Both for the good and the... less good parts. Procrastination can be a pain, even to the best of us. It is very useful to have a small devil perched on your shoulder reminding you of what you wanted to do.
The slate is never cleared between two meetings. The mentor will ask how things are going. And this tends to be a procrastination killer... and it goes both ways.
One of my mentees reminded me about this a week ago. By asking me a few questions, he showed me I had neglected an important topic and had to correct my behavior. And I did.
Accountability alone is already a win for a mentee. It makes things move. Even if the chemistry between the two participants doesn't work. And it works best when the mentor and the mentee trust each other. Only then, can they communicate and hold each other accountable over the right information.
We now have a better understanding of what it takes to be a mentee.
- Can anyone be a mentee? Yes.
- Is everyone ready to be one? Probably not.
- Will everyone become a mentee? Certainly not!
Bottomline, all you need to find in your mentee is potential. The skills listed above are the ingredients for creating the perfect mentee. But all you need is a gut feeling that your potential mentee has potential. You need to believe that there can be a chemistry. You need your guts to tell you that this person will be open to feedback and is trustworthy. You need to check if this person will be able to introspect. And if you are like me, you want to check if the person could become a "mentor" as well or not.
This, is much more important than where the person comes from. As long as you have a common topic you can discuss to get things going.
This is the fourth post of a series of articles about mentoring in which I explain you how to get started with it. Here's the third part if you missed it. And here it goes to part 5 about kickstarting the relationship.
Do you have questions? Write your feedback in the comments below so that I can tailor the upcoming posts to your needs!