Congratulations – you’ve just been selected to participate in a corporate mentoring program. Or maybe you took the initiative and enlisted a mentor yourself. Or perhaps, a seasoned pro has begun to formally or informally take you under his wing. Whatever the case, way to go!
Now comes the tricky part: what should you get mentoring for?
One of the difficult parts of entering a new mentoring partnership – especially for first-time mentees – can be deciding what exactly to invest a mentoring relationship toward. On one hand, it’s great to have a partner committed to your development. On the other hand, it’s hard to know where to start.
There is no question that building a new relationship takes time. Here are a few ideas to get you going until you begin to hit your stride:
Present Business Situation
This should be an obvious first choice. How is your functional area performing? What are the problems and opportunities? What excites you? What keeps you up at night? What can you do to improve things? These would all be great topics to discuss with your mentor.
Individual Development Plan
Your IDP should include both short-term and long-term career goals as well as development areas you plan to focus on to achieve those goals. Invite your mentor to evaluate and provide input on your goals, your plan and your progress.
Your leadership experience or future potential may have played a key role in being able to participate in a mentoring relationship. Many mentoring programs are built on this premise and designed to facilitate and accelerate future growth. Talk with your mentor about your leadership opportunities. Ask how your mentor got where she is and what adjustments she made along the way.
If you’ve never completed a leadership assessment, consider inviting your mentor to go through one with you. You might consider a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or DiSC personality assessment. StrengthsFinder is another popular assessment. Take the opportunity to compare your results with your mentor, discuss similarities and differences and consider how to use them to build a strong connection. Also make sure to consider the development ideas that are included with the reports.
If you are taking part in a formal mentoring program, don’t neglect to read through any program materials you receive, especially at the outset of the partnership. They will probably include helpful tips about structure, focus and scheduling interactions. And don’t be afraid to reach out to the program coordinator for more resources.
Follow a Peer’s Example
One of the big mistakes of mentoring is doing it alone. Many of the best ideas come from the experiences of others. So take the opportunity to reach out to other mentors and mentees – either from your program or elsewhere – and ask how they schedule their interactions, what they talk about and what they’re learning.
Your Own Intuition
Don’t ignore your own intuition in spite of the structure your program may provide. If there is something you’d like to discuss, brainstorm or explore, make sure to add the item to your agenda. Don’t be afraid of “getting it wrong.” Sometimes, you just need to put the program aside and go with the thing on your mind right now.
Mentoring is a terrific investment in future talent. Don’t treat a mentoring opportunity lightly! Remember, successful leaders don’t arrive on their own – and neither will you. If you keep it up, pretty soon you will be the one sharing your wisdom with tomorrow’s top talent.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.