Being an effective mentee

Being a mentee is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege, because it is a valuable opportunity to learn from and with someone more experienced. It is a responsibility, because it requires you to invest time and energy in making the relationship work and in ensuring that you make the best use of the learning you acquire.

Many studies on effective mentoring relationships show that some of the key qualities of an effective mentee in an organizational programme (and to some extent in informal mentoring) are:

  • Respect – for the mentor, for the relationship and for oneself.
    • Respect for the mentor involves recognizing that their time is valuable and that the time they spend with you is a valuable gift. It means appreciating their experience and any guidance they may offer, but making your own choices about what lessons you take away from the mentoring conversations.
    • Respect for the relationship involves sticking to appointments, maintaining confidentiality about your conversations with the mentor, and having a clear perspective on how the relationship will support your development.
    • Respect for yourself is one of the keys to being respected by the mentor. Of course, excessive self-confidence is likely to have the opposite effect, so a good balance is required. Sometimes an important aim of the mentoring relationship is to help the mentee build greater self-respect and self-esteem. In this case, you must be willing to engage with your mentor in discussions that address this issue.
  • Preparation – your mentor can have expectations for you to prepare for each mentoring session. You should spend at least an hour thinking through the issues you want to discuss, what progress you have made on your goals since the previous session, and what you can do to help your mentor understand the issues that you bring. If you have a complex issue to explain, spend some time putting it down on paper, so you remember anything important. When you arrive for a mentoring session, it is important to be prepared. Take a few minutes to relax and get into the right mental state for a learning conversation.
  • Reflection – after each mentoring session, you should spend at least an hour thinking about what you have learned. Who else do you want to talk to? What has changed in your understanding and what implications does this have for you? What specific actions are you going to take as a result?
  • Challenge and be challenged – while in many cultures, it can be difficult to challenge openly someone more senior or experienced? than you, your mentor will be disappointed if you simply accept what they say. Instead, they will expect you to ask questions and to express your own viewpoints. For many mentors, having their thinking and assumptions challenged can be the part of mentoring they find most valuable. This is particularly true, where mentor and mentee come from different cultural backgrounds. At the same time, you must be open to having your own assumptions and perceptions challenged. Some tips on giving and receiving challenge are given below.
  • Role modelling — whenever there is a difference in the relative power or authority of mentor and mentee, the mentor will become something of a role model. The more empathy mentor and mentee feel, the stronger this role modelling effect will be. As a mentee, you have a responsibility to think about what qualities and ways of thinking you want to adopt or adapt from the mentor, and which ones you don’t. Be careful not to take from them behaviours that would not be authentic for you (for example, if you are an introvert, trying to be an extrovert) or which are appropriate at the mentor’s level of seniority, but not at yours. Talk to your mentor about what you observe and are absorbing from them and ask them to put behaviours into context for you.
  • Openness – the mentoring relationship is a safe place, where you can share concerns and dreams. It will only work well, if you are prepared to be honest about your intentions, your fears and your feelings. As you build rapport with the mentor, allow yourself to open up. The more honest you are with your mentor, the more honest you can be with yourself.
  • Learning – use your mentoring relationship as an opportunity to take stock regularly of the learning you are acquiring and the learning you need. You may wish to review with your mentor the ways in which you learn and how you could expand these and make them more flexible. Share your individual development plan, with your mentor.
  • Focus – work with your mentor to establish what is most important for you in your life and career, and relate the issues you bring to these themes. (See Setting goals)
  • Proactivity – if you keep having mentoring meetings, but do little or nothing as a result, your mentor will get discouraged. If you do have difficulties making progress – for example, through pressure of work — be open with your mentor and seek their help in thinking through how you can overcome the difficulties.
  • Giving back – as you experience the benefits of mentoring, think about how you could become a mentor to someone else, either within Anglo American or in the local community. Seeing mentoring from a mentor’s perspective will help you become an even better mentee!

What not to do: The 12 habits of the toxic mentee

The 12 habits is widely published and draws from experiences of hundreds of mentoring programmes. It lists some of the most dysfunctional behaviours a mentee can demonstrate/show/. Of course, none of these would ever apply to you!

  1. Bring to the first formal meeting a long shopping list of things you want the mentor to do for you.
  2. Expect the mentor to be available for you, whenever you want them (heroes never need sleep!).
  3. Regard the mentor as your prime source of gossip to pass on.
  4. Expect the mentor always to have the answer – that is why they are more senior.
  5. Expect the mentor to decide when to meet and what to talk about.
  6. Boast about the relationship to your colleagues at every opportunity.
  7. Never challenge what the mentor says – s/he is paid to know best.
  8. Blame the mentor whenever advice doesn’t work out – s/he should have known better.
  9. Treat mentoring sessions as mobile – the easiest item in the diary to move at the last minute.
  10. Enjoy the opportunity to have a good moan or whinge, whenever you meet – especially if no-one else will listen to you.
  11. Make it clear to the mentor that you want to be just like them – adopt their style of speaking, dress and posture.
  12. Never commit to doing anything as a result of the mentoring session. If, by accident, you do, simply forget to follow the commitment up. (Why spoil the fun of discussion with outcomes?).

Giving and receiving challenge

Giving challenge

Nobody likes having their ideas and opinions criticized. But challenging our thinking is how we learn.

Challenging other people can be confrontational, but then they are unlikely to really listen and may respond by defending rather than thinking about what has been said. Challenging is much more effective, when it is done in a learning manner. Here are some useful guidelines and phrases, which can be adapted to make challenge easier and more acceptable in most cultures, even in those, where there is a high level of concern not to lose face or cause another person to lose face.

  • When challenging logic: Help me to understand… This makes the other person work through their logic, often leading them to see gaps they had not noticed.
  • When challenging behaviour: Can you please explain to me what you were intending to achieve there? This takes away the sense of being judgemental.
  • When challenging assumptions: What factors were you taking into account here? What assumptions were you making? This prevents the other person feeling that we are questioning their intellect.
  • When challenging perceptions: Can you explain to me the context, in which you were looking at this? – so we don’t appear to be questioning their judgement.
  • When questioning values: What are the personal/organizational values you are trying to apply here? What’s important to you in this situation?

An alternative way of challenging is to reflect back your own feelings. For example:

  • I’m feeling confused at this point…
  • I don’t feel very comfortable with that statement…
  • My instinct tells me that this is not right…

In each case, you are taking the focus (and hence any hint of criticism or fault) back towards yourself, so it is easier for the other person to respond generously.

Receiving challenge

The key to receiving challenge is to be aware of and to check our instinctive reactions of affront and resentment. Acknowledge these and consciously put them aside. Ask the other person Would you mind repeating that? I want to understand it properly. This gives you the time and space to hear them accurately and for them to rephrase it in a less confrontational way, if they wish to.

Now think about what has been said from the perspective of:

  • Was it said with goodwill? (Anything a mentor says is likely to have your best interests at heart.)
  • What is it that makes me respond defensively? (We all have messages we avoid hearing!)
  • Is there a difference between my intent and the impact I am having?
  • Am I willing to explore my logic, my assumptions, my perceptions, my values etc?
  • What learning can I immediately take from this feedback?
  • Which aspects of this feedback am I ready to take on board and use to make changes?

© David Clutterbuck, 2012

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