The Mentor-Mentee Relationship: 6 Tips for Success

The Mentor-Mentee Relationship: 6 Tips for Success

Chatting with some friends last week, the subject of reverse mentoring came up. I was surprised to hear so many of them still view mentoring as a one-way relationship. You know, a Yoda/Luke Skywalker type of thing where the wise, older master teaches their young apprentice the ways of the world. 

I see it very differently. In my experience, mentorship, like friendship, is a two-way street. The benefits work both ways. In his talks on mentorship, author Simon Sinek touches on this, noting “the healthiest relationships are balanced relationships where both people show up to give and both people show to learn. . .The way trust is established is by both parties demonstrating that they make time for this, that they take it seriously, that they are willing to invest, and they are willing to take risks.”

I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. So much so, it’s become one of my six golden rules as a mentor.

Wayne’s ‘6 Golden Rules’ of mentorship

Jack Welch, the former Chairman of GE, always spoke of the importance of having many mentors. That we should “grab valuable pieces from different role models.” I took this advice to heart, working with numerous mentors over the years. Each relationship brought something different and special to the table. But I find my most rewarding ones have been those that keep the following in mind. 

  1. Agree at the outset that you will make a conscious effort to learn from each other. Every single one of us has an opportunity to impact another life and learn from each other. 
  2. Be clear about your routine and expectations. 
  3. Be respectful of each other’s time. 
  4. Fully explore the experiences offered in your conversations. Take risks, and don’t overthink it. 
  5. Keep in mind this relationship has a shelf life. Mentors aren’t forever, but the right ones can really make a difference.
  6. Remember, you are never too old to learn something new, and you are never too experienced to learn something from someone less experienced than you. 

One conversation can change everything 

I remember being in my twenties and telling my mentor that I wanted to do more in the community, and I wanted to learn from the best. Within five minutes, he was on the phone with Ruth Goldbloom, a Canadian philanthropist who co-founded the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. And because of that one phone call, I was able to have the pleasure of meeting Ruth in person. She was such a force of nature, and I continue to benefit from what she taught me to this day.

As a mentor, you’ll wear several hats, whether consultant, counsellor or cheerleader. And I find the conversations lead to other value-added relationships. Just like it did for me with Ruth. 

 For example, I had a young mentee ask for my view of her attending a Harvard education program. There were more than a few challenges to consider. It was expensive and lengthy to complete. Plus, her employer was unlikely to support the endeavour.  

I considered what she was trying to achieve by attending and asked, “If you can’t go to Harvard, how do we bring Harvard to you?” This question led to her reaching out to both past Harvard graduates and current students living in her area. She met with many of them and developed, not one but four, valuable new relationships. All without the cost or time commitments she was initially contemplating. By speaking with me, she was able to look at her goals from a different perspective and build her own “Harvard in Halifax.”

The right person, the right time

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” 

– Robert Frost

 Finding the right person at the right time can truly change your life. Having a helping hand lift you up when you need it most can propel you to a place you simply couldn’t get to on your own. It’s about bringing out your best. 

Note: when selecting a mentor, I think it’s helpful when they’re not your boss. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from those you report to, but I have found it’s just not the same given the power dynamic. 

When acting as a mentor, it’s important to remember that, deep down, many people know who they are and where they want to go in life—they just may need some encouragement and support to bring these realizations to light. You’re essentially in the “confidence game” when it comes to another person’s direction in life.

When people ask me how to ensure they’re a great mentor, I always recommend the following:

  • Be willing to communicate what you know
  • Listen actively and ask questions  
  • Be honest and tell it like you see it
  • Maintain objectivity and fairness 
  • Remember that a little compassion goes a long way

 Onward and upward, together 

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

—Benjamin Franklin 

Over the years, I’ve experienced first-hand the inspiration and perspective gained through a mentor/mentee relationship. And now that I’m more often than not the “old fart” in the room, I’m even more aware of just how much different generations can learn from one another. Regardless of industry or experience level, an effective mentorship relationship truly helps both individuals in their respective growth, career direction and purpose. Whether it’s mastering new technologies, staying in touch with the world, or gaining diverse insights, I find I always gain as much as I give, and I’m very grateful for these relationships.

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