Self-improvement is a never-ending quest for the modern entrepreneur. With the fast-paced digital era, keeping up with the latest trends and technologies can be a daunting task.
However, you can work with a mentor who’s in the field and familiar with the happenings of your industry. Learning to be a good mentee will help strengthen your relationship, and enable you to lean on mentors to increase your knowledge.
What is a mentee?
A mentee is a person who receives advice and inspiration from a mentor who has experience and expertise in their field or a particular area of life (marriage, parenting, etc.).
A mentor helps mentees learn new skills, overcome challenges, improve their mindset, and find success inside and outside of work. A mentor-mentee relationship can last for months or even years. And it’s possible for younger professionals to mentor older professionals (this is known as reverse mentoring).
Wendy Ha, an accountant at AgileCPA Professional Corporation, has been on both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship. She recently started a business and struggled to juggle the demands of solopreneurship. So she found someone in her network who owns four accounting firms to share his wisdom.
“I've been working with my mentor for almost a year now, and the experience has been fantastic,” says Ha. “He’s very knowledgeable and accelerated my firm’s growth. Instead of researching or doing things myself, I reach out to [my mentor] whenever I have challenges or questions.”
Qualities of a good mentee
Mentorship can improve your business or career when you take full advantage of the relationship. Research by MentorcliQ shows 91% of mentees say mentorship enhanced their competency in one or more areas they worked on.
To get positive results from a mentorship, mentees should strive for the following qualities:
- Committed: Show your dedication by attending meetings on time, being prepared, and following through on action items.
- Willing to learn: Put in the work and effort to develop new skills and knowledge. A good mentee is receptive to constructive criticism and feedback, and uses them to improve.
- Respectful: Show respect to your mentor and let them know you value their time by being attentive and taking action on their advice. Also, respect the boundaries they set, such as hours and days of availability, and the areas they’re willing to mentor you in.
- Accountable: Take ownership of your mistakes and find ways to prevent them in the future. This shows your mentor you’re serious about development and making progress.
Tips on how to be a good mentee
1. Practice active listening.
When your mentor is speaking, listen without the intent to respond. Active listening takes practice, especially when you’re taking constructive criticism.
It’s tempting to make excuses or argue your point; instead, absorb what’s being said and then respond with a summary or a question to gain clarity.
2. Take the initiative.
Don’t expect your mentor to hand everything to you on a silver platter. Instead, come prepared with ideas and solutions whenever you meet. This will help your mentor understand your problem-solving skills and which areas you may need improvement in.
When you get assignments from your mentors, complete the tasks on time to show you’re committed to bettering your skill set.
3. Be open-minded to different perspectives.
Some mentors come from different backgrounds and walks of life, so their ideas may be out of the box. But remember that you enlisted their help because of their successes. So be open to hearing their perspectives and thoughts.
Amy Ling Lin, CEO of nail salon Sundays Studio, encourages seeking mentors with unique perspectives.
“An uncommon approach is to look outside your industry for mentors and coaches,” advises Lin. “Talking with a mentor who’s tackled similar business issues but in a completely unrelated field can introduce new ways of thinking you may not have encountered before.”
4. Be open about your struggles.
Sharing personal details or shortcomings may be necessary to get the feedback you need to change your situation. Share your fears, struggles, and concerns with your mentor to see how they can help.
Sometimes, you may find they’ve been through a similar experience and have ideas for a resolution.
5. Show your gratitude.
Many mentors help mentees for free. Always thank your mentor for their time and be respectful of boundaries (e.g., sending non-urgent texts in the middle of the night or throughout the day when they’re busy).
You can also say thank you by offering help wherever you can.
“Try to listen to what your mentor says because you could potentially offer value in a different way,” notes Ha. For example, you can introduce the mentor to others who may need their help. Or offer to reverse-mentor them in a skill you’re proficient in (e.g., how to use business software that can speed up their workflow).
6. Set clear goals.
Set a time frame and what you want to achieve by the end of the mentorship, and be clear about the goals you want your mentor to help with. For instance, to improve your public speaking skills within six months before an upcoming conference.
7. Be patient.
You may not see the results of a mentorship immediately; be patient as you work toward your goals. Remember, each step is a step closer to achieving your mission.
At the start of your mentorship, don’t expect your mentor to have all the answers right away. They’ll need time to get to know you and understand what advice will be most helpful.
8. Share your wins.
It’s important to share your successes with your mentor — it shows you’re making progress and builds trust.
When you have a win, tell your mentor their role in helping you get there. Be specific about the advice or resources they provided that made a difference. Hearing how their guidance and support helped others is rewarding and motivating for mentors.
9. Make time for your mentorship.
Your mentorship meetings may be for once a week, once a month, or several throughout the week. Whatever the arrangement, set aside dedicated blocks to focus on the relationship.
This includes making yourself available for meetings and calls, planning goals, and setting task deadlines. Consider using tools like Calendly to set up your availability for one-on-one sessions in advance.
10. Choose your mentor wisely.
Michael O. Cooper, executive coach at Modern Leaders, suggests researching your mentors to ensure they align with your needs.
“Don’t be afraid to ask your potential mentor for references from past mentees who can share their experiences,” says Cooper. “This shouldn’t be a problem if they’re a skilled leader. On the other hand, it’s a major red flag if this is a problem.”
He also advises mentees to take inventory of their needs before choosing their first mentor. This allows them to forge a deep understanding of themselves so they know which mentor and respective work environment will enable them to flourish.
Meg Sullivan, founder and CEO of The Quorum Initiatives, a community for executive women, says to select advisers who are in sync with your values and mission, and can introduce you to new ways of thinking.
Here are four types of mentors she recommends:
- Sponsors: Someone who promotes you to the right people (internal managers) or external business opportunities to elevate your career
- Connectors: Someone who is highly networked and can make important introductions
- Point Experts: Someone who’s like your personal search engine and can research and identify great resources to help you achieve your goals
- Trusted Friends: Someone who will be there through the highs and lows of your career journey
The journey to self-improvement doesn’t have to be a solo one. Work with a mentor as your guide to increase your odds of success.