There are four keys to a positive and productive mentoring experience.  To create a conducive, fertile and successful environment the following principles must shape the experience:

  1. Establish a safe atmosphere. For a mentoring relationship to provide maximum benefit and satisfaction for both mentor and mentee, they must feel that they can speak freely without threat of reprisal. That means all conversations must be confidential, and there must be a high level of mutual trust and respect at all times.
  2. Listen without judgment. People in any relationship seldom agree completely on all topics. For a mentoring relationship to provide fertile ground for open discussion and idea exchange, mentors and mentees must both feel that they are being listened to without being judged for their opinion.  This means the listener must put more effort into understanding what they are being told than in forming opinions or rebuttals to what they are hearing.  As Stephen Covey so elegantly put it: “seek first to understand.”
  3. Focus on learning. As the relationship develops and becomes more personal it is easy to wander onto topics of common interest.  But these topics may not help the mentee in their development.  A mentor must, therefore, continually monitor the discussion and be vigilant that the bulk of conversation and activity is squarely targeted toward the mentee’s learning and development.  A good question to ask at the end of each mentoring session is “what can the mentee now do, or now know, as a result of our together today that will contribute to their success?’
  4. Agree on objectives, not approaches. In planning a journey to any city, there are many alternatives for both mode of transportation and route to be taken.  Each has their particular advantages and disadvantages.  Some choices will be more comfortable, others more scenic, and still others much quicker.  But they all get to the same destination.  The same principle holds true in mentoring.  The first agreement between the mentor and mentee is objectives—the destination for which this mentoring journey is intended to reach.  After the objectives are determined, the mentee, with suggestions from the mentor, can determine how and when to reach that destination.
  5. Appreciate your differences. As Steven Speilberg adroitly put it:  “the delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”  A mentor and a mentee, but definition are not the same person. There will be differences.  Expecting none is not only unrealistic, it could be fatal to the relationship.  Accept there will be differences, and when discovered appreciate them and look to them to make the relationship stronger.