Four Tips for Starting Your Mentoring Relationship on the Right Foot

Both mentor and mentee need to be on the same page to get the most out of the relationship. By setting goals, expectations, and ground rules early, both parties benefit.

There’s no doubt that mentorships have value—many associations offer them to members, and plenty of organizations practice what they preach internally as well. But a mentoring relationship in which neither party is sure of what to expect diminishes its value.

For example, is it OK to ask your mentor to meet up every week? Every month? Every quarter? Is it OK to tell a mentee that he or she is asking for too much of your time? Are you supposed to have a list of questions for your mentor? How honest and upfront can you really be?

Consider these tips to help set expectations for your organization’s mentoring relationships and make sure they begin successfully.

Assess Yourself First

Both parties should think about what they know and what they have to contribute to the relationship. A mentor should consider what skills, knowledge, and networks he or she can leverage to advance the mentee’s career and development.

Meanwhile, mentees should think about career goals, what they want to learn, and how they want to develop professionally—essentially, why the mentor should devote his or her time to the relationship. This preparation will set up a productive first meeting: Both parties can compare notes and create goals that serve both the mentor’s strengths and the protégé’s aspirations.

“Then you both can work together to make it a mutually engaging relationship,” said Tonya Echols, an executive coach and leadership consultant, in Forbes.

Establish Ground Rules Upfront

In addition to setting goals, the first meeting should be about ironing out specifics, such as how often you’ll meet and for how long, when and how to reach each other, how long the mentorship will last, and what success means. Agreeing on these points in the beginning should help remove potential roadblocks and limit miscommunication about the nature of the relationship.

Get to Know Each Other

You’ve identified a mentor or mentee, but how do you know if you’ll mesh with that person? For the first few meetings, both parties should come prepared with questions to learn about each other’s backgrounds, experiences, career histories, passions, goals, and why the person got involved in a mentorship program. The more you know about each other early on, the smoother things will go.

Mentees could even write out a “job description” for their ideal mentor, as Mark Horoszowski, CEO of, suggested in Harvard Business Review. You’ll have an idea of who you want to work with, and you can see if your potential mentor fits the description.

“Equipped with your goals and what you need to help achieve them, think through how a mentor can help,” Horoszowski said. “Write out the type of mentor that can help you seize your biggest opportunities and/or navigate your challenges.”

Build Trust Early on

Both parties should be willing to share their honest thoughts, feedback, and concerns with each other. Mentors in particular should be open about their experiences, past mistakes, weaknesses, and shortcomings to establish an air of honesty and make themselves more approachable. That said, mentees can get this ball rolling as well, suggested Jon Warner, CEO of startup accelerator Silver Moonshots, on LinkedIn.

“A more vulnerable mentee is likely to give a mentor the confidence to speak up and share their real views,” Warner wrote. “This means that the mentee is likely to get better-quality and real information and feedback upon which they can reflect and then adjust strategies when appropriate.”

And when the other person opens up, be an active listener and demonstrate that you appreciate his or her willingness to be vulnerable.

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Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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