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Getting the Most From Your Mentoring Relationship
March 17, 2017

Professor Judy Millesen describes mentorship as an “agreement between two people sharing experiences and expertise to help with reflection, decision-making, and action” to improve personal growth and professional development.

The purpose of mentorship is for individuals to help one another grow and develop while providing benefits for everyone involved. The benefits of a mentoring relationship include the transfer of knowledge, experiences, opinions, and ideas. Another benefit of mentorship is the increase of productivity due to the collaborative nature of mentoring.

Mentor relationships can be versatile despite common myths. Mentor relationships can be short-term or long-term. The relationships can be between individuals, peers, or groups. They can also be formal or informal in nature. The goal of mentorship is to align people with common goals.

The two types of mentors are career mentors and psychosocial mentors. A career mentor helps an individual with career advancement. A psychosocial mentor serves as a role model by helping an individual develop skills, confidence, and professional identity.

The three elements to a successful relationship between mentors and mentees are respect, trust, and listening. Respect is gained through proper eye contact, communication, and professional body language. Trust is gained through upholding agreements. Active listening allows for full engagement between mentors and mentees.

Communication is a key factor in achieving successful mentoring relationships. Proper communication involves maintaining eye contact, using professional body language, and making sure to clarify meanings to gain specific information. The mentor relationship requires a written summary of agreements so the parties do not stray away from the goal. It is important to know when it is proper to email, call, or have a face-to-face conversation with a mentor. A mentoring relationship should avoid becoming too dependent on a mentor and both sides should stay actively engaged to avoid a decline in the relationship.

Some advice for mentees include:

  1. Identify goals
  2. Be willing to learn
  3. Actively seek counsel and advice
  4. Take responsibility
  5. Be open to feedback and coaching
  6. Understand the parameters of the relationship
  7. Be aware of potential pitfalls and how to deal with a challenging situation

Some advice for mentors include:

  1. Recognize that mentee might be uncomfortable asking for help
  2. Advise, not manage
  3. Listen, counsel, coach, give career advice, and set goals
  4. Provide developmental feedback, not criticism
  5. Know the mentee sets the pace of the relationship
  6. Expand mentee’s developmental network and suggest other mentors for certain needs
  7. Suggest skills training
  8. Be aware of potential pitfalls and how to deal with a challenging situation

The mentor is able to share their wisdom and experience with the mentee. It is also important to be open to experimentation on how to implement new ideas to achieve a common goal. Mentor relationships allow parties to share mutual goals and evaluate the progress made on those common goals. Another important aspect of mentoring relationships is to remember the initial goals and aspirations created before going into the relationship.

People who have been mentored have an increased likelihood of career success. A mentoring relationship helps develop an individual’s organizational and professional identity while improving leadership and professional practices among both parties.

Judy Millesen is an associate professor of public affairs at Ohio University. She provides training in mentoring and leadership for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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