Maximising the value of your mentor relationship

The leaders we coach often sit on both sides of the mentoring relationship. Part of our work is to ensure that leaders engage and leverage a network, and when they invest in mentoring, they maximise the value of the relationship. 

The more effective mentors seem to have a magical combination of relevant experience and wisdom and an ability to dispense it at the relevant moment. Yet, there is no magic formula to becoming an effective mentor, no one-size-fits-all; we’re not here to talk about that! 

At Horizon37, we have coached over 100 mentors since March 2020, enabling them to maximise their value for the mentees and the businesses they lead. We believe that mentoring practices and styles are diverse. You are all on your own journey into mentoring. Put in the effort and be conscious to explore who you are as a unique mentor, doing so will maximise the value of your relationship. 

“You are all on your own journey into mentoring.”  

To get the very best from a mentoring relationship, a mentor should establish a clear framework with their mentee at the start of their relationship, allowing a strong and effective bond to be created. 

So how do you kick-off a great mentoring relationship?… 

Mentoring can be game-changing for business leaders… when it works. A lot depends on the relationship, and both parties stepping into the relationship – with both feet in and pointing in the same direction!

Superb first encounters usually involve some expectation setting. Both parties will come with their own ideas about what the relationship is for and how it will work. In the most effective mentoring relationships, they’ve managed to get on the same page in four areas. Contribution, Permissions, Boundaries and Practicalities. 

Here is a pick and mix menu of techniques you can deploy to get your mentoring relationships set-up for success. Health warning: Do not bore the life out of each other by working through this entire list. That would be like eating every item on the menu at your favourite restaurant! 

Contribution 

Articulate who you are as a mentor and consider what you are bringing (certainly specialisms can be useful to clarify here). Ask your mentee: 

How can I be most valuable to you?”  

Discuss and layout: 

● What can/can’t/will/won’t you offer in your mentoring? i.e. “You can expect from me that I will”: 

– Continually seek to understand and focus on your goals. 

– Be a sounding board and thought-partner. 

● Describe the skills and experience you are bringing, and not bringing i.e. “I know about X, talk to me about that, I can offer a brilliant contribution here, but I don’t know about Y, you’ll need to talk with someone else. 

● Ask the mentee, “What requests do you have of me?”. Then remember to give the mentee space to make specific requests of you about contribution. 

Permission 

What could be assumed about the mentor’s role, that might be better unambiguously set as permissions? Consider and establish these before the relationship begins. 

“I request that you permit me to”:  

● Be assertive and challenging. – what does that mean and look like for the mentee, and ask what the mentee wants: “What kind of challenge is welcomed?” 

● Give direct advice, in particular, “If I think you’re off course, do you see this as my role, is this what you want or would you prefer a softer steering approach?” 

“What do I have permission to do?”  

Gather opinions about you and your business from (or discuss your performance with) third parties/stakeholders.

● Hold your mentee to account for the commitments and actions you choose in your mentoring sessions. “Can I challenge you on this as we have discussed together – is that OK”. There may be processes or steps that are set in place by someone outside of the mentoring relationship, so set permissions around this. 

These are things that your relationship as a unique mentor and unique mentee can choose to set out as permissions, or not. Think about what will allow you to be on your best game and the best mentor you could be. 

Boundaries 

Boundaries are far easier to set than to raise after they have been crossed, so it is important to get them established before mentoring starts. There are no right answers here, the big thing is to talk about it. 

Confidentiality: Be rock solid on confidentiality –it’s good to avoid ambiguity about this, even if the default is to keep everything confidential. Consider, ‘What could be disclosed? 

“What could be disclosed?”  

Commercial confidentiality should be assumed at all times (even if/even though a Non-Disclosure Agreement may not have been signed). Only illegal activity, actions that may contravene the terms of their employment would be disclosed. 

No Go Areas: Particularly important here is the discussion around Mentor versus Therapist – will you discuss personal issues with them that may be on the peripheral area but not directly about business leadership? 

Representation: Is it ever OK for the mentor to represent the mentee? Discuss first: “I will not represent you or your business without explicit permission. I will always encourage you to have difficult conversations, rather than doing it on your behalf.” 

Interfering: How involved in the detail can the mentor be, where is the line? Discuss “either you or I can call out when it’s time for me to step-back if/when we disagree (especially on strategy) – you have decision-rights as the leader of your business”. 

Practicalities 

Finally, establish the practicalities around the mentoring relationship. Making a check-list can be helpful to maximise efficiency from this relationship and really get the most from it. 

“What practical rhythm of working makes sense?”  

It’s important to decide together: 

● “When, where and how shall we meet/communicate?” 

“How will we agree on the agenda/topics to cover?” 

“What happens if we need to cancel/change plans?” – This can derail relationships very early on if not broached beforehand. 

● What communication is acceptable outside scheduled meetings?” 

● “Who will record actions and how/when will we review them?” 

“When I make introductions, what follow-up can I count on you for?” – This is a bit of a derailer if you don’t make it clear. 

The goal is to translate the tips we have shared into individual practices, and set the appropriate framework, to have the best chance to make your mentoring valuable! By selecting and deploying these techniques with your own unique mentoring approach, you will be on your way to establishing an effective mentoring relationship for both parties. 

This article is based on our learnings, working with hundreds of mentors and leaders. To learn more about our work, please visit http://www.horizon37.co.uk. 

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