So you’ve finally found a mentor or a mentee who you think is a great fit. You’ve been meeting for several months. How do you know that your partnership is actually working? And what do you do if you suspect it might be time to find a different mentor or mentee?
While every relationship is different, a pattern has emerged for us as we’ve run hundreds of mentoring partnerships. These five signs point to a successful partnership. They’re also a strong indication that an early partnership is on the right track.
Sign one: You’re meeting consistently.
When mentoring, it’s important to establish one simple guideline off the bat: How often will you meet? It could be once a week or several times a month, but the goal is to be consistent.
Consistently taking time shows commitment, which helps build trust. Meeting every now and then, or only when you feel like it, won’t cut it. And by having a regular meeting and marking it on the calendar, you’ll also provide structure for your relationship and minimize stress, so you can focus on what really matters: developing each other.
Commitment also extends outside the specified one-on-one meeting. Make sure each of you is available and truly committed to devoting an adequate amount of time to the relationship—not just in person but for occasional follow-up on questions or other matters that arise.
Sign two: You’re both thinking outside the box.
Mentors and mentees who are curious and willing to try new tactics will gain the most from a mentoring relationship. Studies show that curiosity helps us learn and retain new information.
Applying the same old strategies over and over to solve problems will likely fail at some point. The best mentors provide new perspectives and help mentees see troublesome situations in a new light. They ask questions that challenge mentees to reexamine their beliefs while exploring possible solutions in a supportive environment.
Sign three: You’re both reaching your goals.
Among the strongest signs of a great partnership is successful achievement of a mentee’s goal(s). However, in order to achieve goals, they need to be explicitly defined at the start of the partnership. Is it a promotion? More responsibility or a role change? Dealing with a tough boss? Once the goals are defined, they should be examined over time and modified as needed.
Long-term goals also deserve consideration, alongside short-term matters and the day to day. They’re crucial to defining a career path. A mentor and mentee should be in constant conversation about larger, big picture goals and progress made in reaching them.
Mentors can have their own goals, too, such as cultivating their own leadership skills and finding greater job satisfaction. Achievement of a mentee’s goals should feel like a win for them, too.
Sign four: You’re both holding each other accountable.
A sign of a good mentorship is accountability, a two-way street where mentors provide honest guidance and mentees hold themselves responsible for meeting established goals.
Preparation can help immensely with accountability. Ahead of time, mentors can establish an informal agenda via email, review notes from previous sessions, and brainstorm topics for discussion. Mentees can take notes during the week of wins and losses as they occur so they have a list of conversation topics ready.
When each mentoring call or meeting begins, consider kicking it off with a quick recap of the last. What issues are outstanding? Was progress (hopefully) made on thorny issues? Mentees want to know their mentors care. Mentors can show that in many ways, from asking for a status update outside the scheduled time, to listing specific steps to take before the next meeting.
Sign five: You’re both truly listening. And you can see each other.
Mentors and mentees spend practically the entirety of each session talking to each other, so active listening is critical for both parties. This is, of course, impossible with distractions and loud conversation. Choose a quiet environment and leave the cell phones elsewhere.
In responding to what a mentee has said, mentors should construct questions carefully and clearly, never judging. A good approach is one that attempts to see all sides of a story. It’s estimated that 55 percent of the meaning in our words is derived from facial expressions. Eye contact is a sign of good listening, along with a summarization of what has been said thus far. For mentoring partnerships, video chats or in-person meetings are much better than audio-only calls.
Mentees, meanwhile, should also be direct with questions. Acknowledge you’ve heard what your mentor has said and explain your reasoning for why you agree or disagree with their advice. And work on developing active listening as a skill; not only will it help your partnership succeed, but several studies show that it’s a key characteristic of successful leaders.
Uh-oh it’s not a match. Now what?
If you’ve started to doubt the relationship you have with your mentor or mentee, consider discussing your concerns before calling it quits. Try and hone in on why you think the partnership didn’t work. Did they have a working style too similar to yours? Wildly dissimilar? Was the other person not adventurous enough in providing or implementing solutions/suggestions? Finding the answers to questions like these will help in picking a new partner in the future, and might even be able to save a partnership in peril.
If you still decide the partnership isn’t working, don’t draw out the breakup—it’s not worth wasting time. An email might seem easy, but discussing the issue face to face and confronting it head-on is a great way to end the relationship gracefully. Having that kind of conversation is also a skill many mentees should develop, if they want to advance to senior management. And you never know when you might meet your mentor or mentee in the future!