Even though our mentors are experts in their field, mentoring is a continuous learning journey for everyone involved. That’s why we recently invited our Chief Mentor, Cristina Muntean, to answer some of the burning questions in our Mentor Community. An expert on mentoring, coaching, and strategic communications, here’s what she had to say about some of the hot topics on our mentors’ minds.
My mentee’s goals have changed. Should I redirect them back to their original purpose or support them with their new challenges?
This is the thing with mentoring - and this is why mentoring is so binding - when we come in front of our mentees, we come like a Swedish table, full of our own work and life experiences. While they may have had an initial goal (they were hungry), it's pretty much up to them what menu they go after and if they choose to nibble on our work experience or to get a plateful of talk on some deeper, meaningful life experience.
My advice would be to:
- Reflect on your concern with your mentee and ask them: I’ve noticed we have moved away from our original purpose. How has your purpose or goal shifted? What is it that you want the most from our process right now? And can we agree that, should you feel we step out of that purpose, you would let me know so we can recalibrate?
- Ask your mentee at the beginning of each session: What would you like us to work on today? What would be a good outcome of this particular session to you?
- Ask your mentee at the end of each session: on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is not at all and 10 is absolutely, how well does our session today support your current purpose and goals? If anything less than 10, what can we do differently next time to stay on track and follow your goals?
I believe that by meeting your mentee where they are you will do them the greatest service. Their purpose and goals are theirs and yours are the wisdom to hold the process and trust that you are enough to serve.
How do I best motivate my mentee? Do you have any tips on how to boost mentee’s confidence and show them their goal is possible if they really want it and work hard enough, without being pushy about it?
First of all, I believe that we as mentors could be sometimes more in love with our topics than our mentees. Mentees come to us to learn and grow into a topic they are barely discovering, while we are fully swimming in the ocean, so it's natural for them to go back and forth while we can retain a more constant level of motivation.
Second, the mentoring process always follows a U shape. At the beginning, mentees go into it fully energized and enthusiastic. After a while, however, they may start to discover what they don't know and become afraid. So, they may want to pull back.
As a mentor I would encourage you to be ready for that and create space in your 3rd to 6th session for questions around motivation:
- How are we moving forward?
- How is what we have explored so far impacting you and your purpose and goals?
- What is taking your energy away?
- What are you really afraid of?
- And most importantly, how can I help you now?
When mentoring on a very specific skill where progress can be tracked easily, it's easy to fall into concerns about laziness or incompetence. However, very often it is just good old human emotion holding mentees back from progress.
Do you have any advice for how mentors can best prepare for their first meeting with a mentee? Any key things they should prepare ahead of time or be ready for?
I believe it's essential to clarify WHY you want to mentor in the first place. What do you expect from yourself, your mentee and the process? Be very honest with yourself, write your expectations on paper because all of this will come with you, spoken or unspoken, to the first meeting.
Thus, my recommendation for both first-time and experienced mentors would be:
- Write down your own expectations - for yourself, for your mentee and for the process.
- Stay flexible - your plan will change the moment you dip your toes into the water.
- Plan enough time for the first meeting.
- Focus on getting to know your mentee - really knowing them. Ask them to tell you their story, dig into their dreams, be super curious about their purpose and goals.
- Remember this is not about you and what you know. Ask your mentee how they think you can help them the most at this point in their life - throughout the whole program and during individual sessions.
- Instead of plunging into your own story, ask your mentee: what do you want to know about me? Then follow their curiosity.
The most important thing is to meet our mentees where they are. Remember, they may not know the way forward, but we do know the way back. So it's our duty of care to come fully prepared not only in terms of experience, but with genuine mental and emotional space for the human being in front of us. When we mentor, we mentor with our whole being. Get ready for a mind-blowing experience.
How do I find the right balance for leading meetings? Will my mentee expect me to lead every time, or will they be asking questions?
As you prepare yourself for the match, I want to encourage you to review the skills and experience on which you intend to mentor. What exactly would you like to pass on to your mentee? How would a mentee benefit most from the time spent with you? I would encourage you to clarify your input and your expectations as well.
The second part is matching the mentee's expectations. Here, the best way to answer your question is to ask your mentee. It is only through open, honest, constructive and co-created dialogue that you can find the recipe that will work for you.
So, when you have the first chemistry meeting - ask the mentee:
- What are your questions? What would you like me to focus on and answer for you?
- What should I do when you don't have questions? Should I propose an agenda and check with you if it's what you need?
- Can you please tell me if I am leading too much? Could we agree on a word or sentence that would be our signal that I need to be more silent and open the room for your input and questions?
Mentoring is a beautiful dance. The most you can do for your mentee is to care about where they are right now, at this moment in their life, with trust that you can manage whatever will emerge.
I rarely receive candid and constructive feedback from my mentee. Do you have any suggestions for what I can do?
To answer your question, I believe it's incredibly valuable for mentors to share the EMCC mentoring definition with the mentee from the very beginning. You can find it here. What I want to emphasize is the part about the inclusive two-way partnership for mutual learning.
When we, mentors, share this with our mentees, they understand that we also want to and can learn from them, which is making the experience mutual. Thus, asking for feedback is an essential part of mentoring. For one, it keeps our ego in check, and also nurtures the mutual learning experience.
This is why I would encourage mentors to:
- Share the mentoring definition at the beginning to set the context for asking for feedback.
- To ask for feedback regularly, ideally at the end of each session, with questions such as: On a scale of 1 to 10, how helpful was our session today? If anything less than 10, what can we do and what can I do differently next time?