Though many mentoring relationships come about informally, one expert says those relationships can benefit a great deal from a bit of formality.
Allison McWilliams, director of mentoring and professional development at Wake Forest University, says formalizing the process can have a number of benefits for both parties. To that end, McWilliams says several simple steps can help to improve the mentoring relationship.
- Develop a regular schedule for meeting —Be sure you are focused on the relationship and your mentee’s goals.
- Practice active listening —Remove distractions and practice paraphrasing what you have heard before you feel compelled to respond.
- Ask thoughtful, thought-provoking questions —This relationship is based on intentional conversations. Open-ended questions encourage your mentee to reflect on his or her decisions and choices. Mentoring conversations are built around four key questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How do you plan to get there? What happened?
- Provide objective feedback and guidance —Make it a safe space for your mentee to take risks. Sometimes that means taking a wrong turn or falling down. It’s not your job to prevent these bumps in the road; sometimes the best learning happens when we don’t succeed. A mentor should make sure those learning moments aren’t missed.
"It's important to remember that the more experienced person, or mentor, provides guidance, feedback and wisdom to help the more inexperienced person, or mentee, grow," McWilliams said. "It’s a personal and purposeful relationship, but it is not just counseling, coaching or advising."
While the mentoring relationship may be dependent upon both parties to survive, companies may want to pay attention to the process more than they do, McWilliams says. The relationship between mentors and mentees can have a number of benefits for both employees and companies. Some of those benefits include:
- Help with transition — Whether you are starting college, finding a new job or looking for ways to grow your career, mentors help you learn the written and unwritten rules of the road to success.
- Identity Development — Mentors push people to explore their personal values and beliefs, helping them discover who they are and how they find meaning.
- Pursuing goals — Whether it’s personally or professionally, mentors see mentees' strengths and interests, then encourage them to develop those areas to achieve their goals.
The most important lesson to be learned about mentoring relationships is that they are finite, McWilliams said.
"Be sure to celebrate your successes and bring the relationship to closure at the right time," McWilliams said. "It's another chance for you and your mentee to chat about what each of you learned and what you will take forward into a future mentoring situation."