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5 ways to get the most from your mentor

John C. Crosby on Mentoring

Being a mentee isn’t always easy. You have added yet another person to the list of people who want something from you, and likely they are asking you to push well beyond your comfort zone. This can feel overwhelming and likely makes you question why it seemed like such a good idea in the first place.

Seriously… you are just one person and suddenly you feel like the demands on your time, energy, and brain are all too much for a single person to handle.

While all of this is true, your mentor can help you to cope with this while also offering you a chance to move well beyond status quo, but only if you put in the effort. After helping people grow themselves for over a decade now and as a strong proponent that every woman should be a mentor, I thought I could offer some tips about how to get the most out of the experience as a mentee.

1. Don’t make excuses, just do the work:

Your mentor is not your high school English teacher asking where your homework is. It’s probable that anything they have asked you to do is an investment in yourself. If you choose not to do the work -and I mean choose: Netflix binges, dinners with friends, and hobbies are all choices-don’t expect your mentor to keep investing in you.

There is a reason that they have agreed to help you but if you don’t do the work don’t expect them to keep showing up. This is one of the most common reasons mentors break up with mentees. Since most of them are busy professionals with hundreds of demands on their free time, when they make an hour or two for you, you should earn it.

If you can’t complete a task because you lack the knowledge or skill it is completely acceptable to reach out for guidance as to where to begin and what they are hoping to see. On the same note sometimes life gets hectic and you legitimately can’t get all the tasks done, but you need to tell them.

Mentors are not unreasonable, but don’t wait until the hour before your meeting to ask for help or tell them that you didn’t do the work.

2. Come prepared with solutions, not just questions:

You are absolutely encouraged to ask questions of your mentor. Pick their brains to discover experiences and ideas for any items you might be faced with, but also come prepared with what you think the best route is and your reasons why. This preliminary reflection can support them in guiding you to the best answers for you as an individual.

It will also serve as a foundation for skills that they might think you need to work on improving or areas such as critical thinking and problem solving that they have more experience with and can support you in developing.

3. Be ready for answers you don’t like

There is a reason many mentors are successful business people, they face tough questions and deliver fair and reasonable responses. This often translates into being a bit of a mirror for the challenges that their mentees are faced with, and it’s not always a nice mirror.

Often it’s more like one of those three sided jobs echoed by bad lighting making you feel like you have gone swimsuit shopping after eating pizza and ice cream for a month. If the truth is a bit ugly, odds are they will shine a light on it.

Nothing that they share is done with the idea of hurting or attacking you, but sometimes that reflection you see in the mirror won’t be flattering. This is not the fault of the mentor, but actually just a step on the way to helping you become more awesome. You can’t measure improvement if you don’t know where you are starting from.

4. You don’t need the knowledge or the network to benefit

Mentors can open doors, identify potential, and offer resources and most do so freely, but they also know that you don’t have all of those things at your disposal so they come in willing to give some of those things away. When your mentor offers you one of these gifts, be grateful and respond in a way that shows you appreciate their support.

This could mean doing the follow up from a meeting in a professional manner, reading the book they suggest, being on time, or any number of other things. Displaying gratitude with action is great but make sure while they are helping you to look good you do everything in your power to display all of the potential they see in you.

5. Take advantage of every chance you get

When you mentor suggests a book, class, meeting, or approach do everything you can to take advantage of what they give you. I often have had mentees tell me they don’t read and as far as I’m concerned that is the worst thing you can do for both your career and your life. Books, essays, articles, introductions to new people, and even structured classes all serve to open your mind to new perspectives and can assist in helping you reflect on where you are and where you want to be.

Don’t squander these gifts.

Having great mentors over the years has helped me to define my personal values, discover where I am willing and not willing to compromise, and even pushed me through hard times. While they aren’t always available to everyone, it never hurts to ask the question of someone you respect since the one thing every mentor is looking for in a mentee is a desire to be better today than they were yesterday.

Bonus tip: It’s ok to change the goal mid-way.

Seeing a mentor often serves as a catalyst for all sorts of changes in your life from who you want to share a romantic relationship with to what path you want your career to take. Your mentor has likely lived through many of these scenarios and can understand where you are coming from. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling and they may just be able to help you find a short cut to that new target.

**If you liked this article you might also like Why every woman should be a mentor. Being a good mentee is just as critical to the mentoring process as is the need to actually be a mentor. There is no reason that we can’t sit in both roles at exactly the same time.