Top Tips for Successful Mentor-Mentee Relationships

We’re midway through the 2019 Adweek Executive Mentor Program, pairing mentees with 110 of the world’s most accomplished marketing leaders. As a quick check-in, we reached out to all 113 mentees (a couple of mentors took on more than one mentee!) to find out how things were going and what key learnings could be shared with our community.

Since all of our mentees have unique challenges and goals—not to mention different backgrounds, industries, roles and geographies, from San Francisco to Nigeria—feedback varied greatly, but we gleaned some common themes and powerful tips.

What surprised you most about your mentor?

The most common theme that emerged was how surprised the mentees were at how approachable, down-to-earth, and easy to talk to their mentor was and, in many cases, how much extra time the mentor offered beyond the scope of the program. After all, we’re talking about some of the world’s most powerful leaders, hence many of our very accomplished mentees felt a little intimidated and weren’t really sure what to expect from the leader heroes they pitched to earn as mentors. The fact that our mentors quickly removed that dynamic from the conversation is not only a testament to their leadership skills but their human/people skills. Those are the skills required in any conversation to put people at ease and accomplish great results.

Notable quotes from our mentees:

“I was rapidly writing everything down and I was nervous that I would miss something. That concern was immediately eased when she went out of her way to offer up her cell phone number during the middle of our session. She wanted to make sure I felt she was available beyond our dedicated time… a true mentor and leader!”

"He not only set time aside to give me advice, but his kindness and generosity astounded me."

“In our eyes, they are super-human people we strive to be someday. Like a high school basketball player meeting their Michael Jordan. So, how genuine and interested they are in our lives, is always surprising and inspiring.”

“I love when accomplished folks are notably down-to-earth, genuine and welcoming because it put me at ease. I’ve also only recently come to the realization that massively impressive people are also just people, so I try not to let myself get as intimidated nowadays.”

Key Takeaway

First, when working with a mentor, it’s important to remember that they are people too. Impressively accomplished, perhaps, but still someone who was once at a point in their career like the point you are at now. Which leads to the second point, remember that feeling and be sure to pay it forward as every mentee will become a mentor at some point in their career, if not already. Be approachable and keep your mentee at ease.

The most impactful result of your first meeting?

The consensus among the mentees was that when their mentor was very honest, direct and underscored their points with personal examples, the advice became immediately relevant and actionable.

"She mentioned that it is ok to set parameters in certain moments of your life and supported this with a personal example. This simple advice gave me the relieved and confident feeling that I can tackle my challenge: defining my next opportunity while finding the right balance between family and career."

"Her advice around my personal development and growth was vital. She suggested areas of focus and provided insight into what skills I need to gain in my role and what my focus should be in any future role."

“We discussed the Imposter Syndrome in the workplace and how to avoid it. As a young black woman working in Corporate America, there are so many challenges that I encounter on a daily basis. My mentor instantly encouraged me to 'focus on the quality of my work versus office politics.' A light bulb went off in my head after she said that. Now, that is one of my mantras as I continue to move forward in my career.”

“He gave me practical tips, for example, instead of having my team present ideas to me, try what he called 'micro check-ins.' It’s a brilliant, yet simple idea to create less heightened conversations while teaching the team to come to me with problems.”

“My mentor and I chatted a lot about my current job search. He reminded me that the next job may not have a C in the title, and to think about what I learned in my last role and where my next stop needs to be as I move towards my North Star."

Key Takeaway

What may seem like a less than novel ah-ha (being honest, direct and personal), actually requires a very specific and honed skill on both sides.  From the mentee perspective, don’t expect this type of career-altering advice to always come easy and natural from your mentor.  If they aren’t giving you advice that stems from their personal experience, be sure to ask for those examples. Or, if what you’re asking for help on isn’t something they can relate to personally, recalibrate your ask. In theory, and what we asked the mentees to do in their pitches, you should have a very good idea of your mentor’s superpowers before even requesting them as a mentor.  Since you can’t ask them to help you in every part of your life or career, use the time to focus on the areas where they can help you the most.

What contributed most to the success of your first meeting?

The resounding answer? Preparation, preparation, preparation! And, indeed, when we asked the mentors how their first call went with their mentee, they were overwhelmingly impressed with the level of preparation, which they appreciated whole-heartedly. Not everything is perfect, so there were a couple of instances where mentors were suggesting more inward preparation - what do you truly want out of this relationship? This will vary, but that is an important point.  The preparation needs to not just be about the mentor, but truly about you.  What one or two things can that mentor help you with that no one else can?  Doing your homework to leverage their superpowers is critical, but equally, marrying that to your unique goals.  Sounds easy, but in a world of dizzying requirements for success, that focus will yield faster and better results for both.

"I read up on my mentor and her background before I even put her on my application as my top choice. I knew the commonality of how we both landed at our current job, so used that as the ice breaker when we started the call."

“Preparation was huge. I went into the call with two topics I wanted to get guidance on—creative leadership and hiring talent. ... As a result, I ended our call with very clear, relevant, and actionable tactics to try until the next call.”

"In preparing for my first session, it was important for me to somehow find a way to connect with my mentor. Going into it I thought, ‘How much could I possibly have in common with this Global Chief Brand Officer?’ To my surprise, our connections were endless!"

"It was a great idea to send my resume and outline of what I wanted to get out of the call ahead of time – I could tell that he read through it all."

Key Takeaway

To get the most out of any mentor-mentee relationship, it is critical to do the honest self-reflection to think through exactly what you want to get out of it. This entails some soul-searching on your specific personal goals, some thoughtful analysis of the broader environment in which you are working, and also the ability to prioritize what you think you can uniquely get out of a particular mentor relationship (given your mentor’s superpowers and limited time) versus other advice you could potentially receive elsewhere. A great example of ‘the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.’

One final thought...

Many of our mentees are already mentors or will be soon.  In fact, all of our mentors were mentees once upon a time and many of them say they are still learning from their mentors.  This wheel of fortune only spins when we all take time to give back what we have received along the way. As one of our mentees mentioned about her mentor, “Her approach makes me not only a stronger professional but also (a stronger) mother, wife and future mentor.”

Congratulations to all the current Adweek Executive Mentees! Their passion, dedication and focus is not only shaping their success, but also impressing their mentors and preparing them to mentor others moving forward.

Special thanks to the program's founding partners: BET, Deloitte, Google and Verizon

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