ADVICE

How to build a mentorship relationship

In a healthy mentorship relationship, everyone is there to learn

In Summary
  • Mentorship is a relationship like any other.
  • The mentorship relationship should be a safe place to make mistakes, grow and change.

“Can you be my mentor?”

Often, I hear this question after speaking at conferences – and I would think, “Okay, what next? Where do we start?” This is a challenge because, generally, people don’t understand the mentorship relationship.

Here is a foundational thought: mentorship is a relationship like any other. It’s beyond someone better than you trying to make you better. The people involved must do the work for it to work, like any other relationship. To succeed in one-on-one mentorship relationship, here are four principles that can help you.

Mutual Respect: In a healthy mentorship relationship, everyone is there to learn. True mentors don’t think that they are better than their mentees. They understand that they would learn as much as they teach. Hence, they accord the mentee proper respect – this is a sign of a good mentor. The thinking that the mentor is the only person who deserves respect in the relationship is wrong. Where there is no mutual respect, a mentorship relationship will fail.

Ask Question: The mentorship relationship should be a safe place to make mistakes, grow and change. This means that you should be vulnerable without fear and encouraged to ask questions. In this relationship, questions start the conversations. If your mentor makes you feel small or stupid for asking questions, you have a tormentor. Effective mentors create a safe space for mentees to ask questions that help them explore and discover themselves.

Manage Weaknesses: Your mentor is a person and therefore, not perfect. In the relationship, you will see and experience your mentor’s weaknesses, and this can pose challenges. How you handle your mentor’s weaknesses would make or break the relationship. Here is my rule of thumb: if you are fully aware of your mentor’s weaknesses and you decide to remain in the relationship, then you must respect them despite their weaknesses – once mutual respect is gone, the relationship is over. However, if you feel that you can no longer respect your mentor due to their weaknesses, end the relationship – but if you must stay, respect is not negotiable.

Grow: If the people in a mentorship relationship are not growing, then they are wasting each other’s time. Here, growth is not for the mentee alone, the mentor should also learn and experience growth in the relationship. Mutual growth fuels the relationship and makes it a partnership. In a healthy mentorship relationship, everyone is nourished because everyone does the work to ensure mutual growth. Mentorship is a two-way street.

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