4 Ways to Make a Mentorship More Meaningful

Planning, intention, connection, and definition are keys to successful mentorships. Discover tips for mentors and mentees to maximize their professional relationships.

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4 Ways to Make a Mentorship More Meaningful

Here's what you need to know:

  • To help ensure a meaningful mentorship, the mentor and mentee should be able to build a working relationship of mutual trust and respect
  • Mentorships can be either informal or formal
  • Create a written plan and mentorship agreement
  • Avoid criticizing, critiquing, or taking things personally in a mentorship

Mentorships have long been a part of the business world. These working relationships allow people to glean valuable skills and insights from their supervisors, business leaders, or even coworkers that have a longer tenure with the company.

Of course, half of the success of a mentorship program comes in making sure that it’s a meaningful relationship with a strong connection between the people involved. That’s sometimes more difficult than it sounds.

One of the biggest complaints about professional mentoring today is that employers consider it an expectation for career development. However, it often lacks purpose.

Taking on a mentee or finding a mentor, regardless of your role, is something that needs to be done with intention and with a focus on creating a meaningful, influential relationship that can benefit both parties in different ways. Otherwise, it’s just a transactional, forced business relationship that becomes more obligatory than opportunistic.

Here are 4 ways to make sure that doesn’t happen in your mentorships.

Check the connection between mentors and mentees

Too often, organizations connect mentors and mentees without considering their personalities or the way they may connect (or whether they’ll even connect at all).

A better connection means better communication, personal and professional development, and a more meaningful experience overall.

It’s easy to assign mentors to your new employees or those who want more professional development. It’s more challenging to find the right people to create the right connection for optimal mentorship, both for the mentor and mentee alike.

However, it’s worth the investment of time and effort because a better connection means better communication, personal and professional development, and a more meaningful experience overall.

These 2 people don’t have to be the best of friends, by any means. However, they do need to be able to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect and to gain something of value from the other.

If you have people in forced mentorships, they’re going to give you a forced response. The only way to make mentorships work in everyone’s best interest is to make sure everyone can connect with each other in a way that makes an impact.

Do it yourself if your company doesn’t offer a formal program

Harvard Business Review reports that despite 76% of professionals thinking a mentor is integral to growth, more than half of them don’t have a mentor and never have.

Part of this is because companies don’t offer mentorship programs, which automatically leaves people to assume it’s not an option. Says who? Employees (and business leaders) should feel free to go out and create their own mentorships.

If you want to help someone with professional development (or if you’re the person in need of professional development mentorship), go for it. Don’t wait for permission or a “mentor program” to be implemented.

Not only will this ensure that you get the maximum experience, but it will make the relationship that much more meaningful from the start because you chose it.

You can find mentors and those in need of mentoring by comparing goals, needs, and professional development objectives, networking with others, and more. Take advantage of that and start benefiting from mentorships in every way you can.

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Create a written plan and mentorship agreement

One great way to ensure that a mentorship is meaningful is to have a plan and agreement in place ahead of time. This can be whatever you want it to be — the agreement terms should be decided between the 2 people involved in the mentor/mentee relationship. It could even be something as simple as:

We enter into this mentorship agreement, fully acknowledging our accountability and responsibility to each other, to empower growth and development for all parties by working together in a professional capacity. For the duration of this agreement, both parties agree to live up to the expectations and duties of their role in the mentorship and to speak up and/or terminate the agreement at any point if it seems to be disagreeable to either party.

It’s short, sweet, and to the point. You’re basically saying, we’re doing this and we are both committed to it.

Even having that simple piece of paper (or digital document) can improve a mentorship in several different ways. It’s clear, direct accountability and it gives both the mentor and the mentee ownership in the process.

Once you have this agreement in place, you can work together to come up with a mentoring plan that addresses the goals and needs of both parties. Again, this helps everyone feel accountable and have a sense of ownership over the mentorship, which will increase its meaningfulness.

Don’t let the mentor-mentee relationship fade out

If a mentorship has run its course, end it. Like any relationship, it will only serve both parties for so long. Some people are lifelong mentors, and some people have them.

Other relationships will be for a few years, a specific objective, or a certain stage of professional development. Countless mentorships never truly “end.” They instead fade away, as both parties get busy, lives become more complex, and people just stop making a point to put a priority on the relationship.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It is just something that needs to be addressed if the mentorship is going to be as meaningful as it can be.

Schedule a sit-down. Debrief about what you’ve both learned and benefited from the relationship. Be honest and look at whether you can offer each other any further development or growth at this point.

If the answer is no, say thank you and move on. If you realize there’s still room for the relationship and you just need to re-prioritize it, make a plan to get it back on track.

What should people avoid in mentorships?

Of course, we can’t talk about the best ways to make mentoring more effective and meaningful without going over a few cautionary don’ts. Remember, this is a relationship, not a check mark on the to-do list.

Here’s what not to do:

  • Talking down to employees or mentees — stay on their level
  • Setting up mentorships between friends/family
  • Taking things personally — it’s about professional development for both of you
  • Being closed-minded
  • Ignoring feelings or ideas
  • Only criticizing and critiquing — mentoring isn’t a performance review, it’s a relationship

With these things in mind, you’ll have a better understanding of how mentoring works and how to make it work for you.

Planning, intention, and definition are key in mentorships

Mentoring is a challenge because it’s a human relationship. Whenever humans interact, certain complexities and considerations come into play.

This is a relationship that can benefit from structure and a transparent agreement and understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. It’s a great way to offer personal guidance and professional development in a more connected way than through group sessions or lunch-and-learn meetings.

These 4 tips here are just the start. You can find a lot of other insights about mentorships, both from the perspective of the mentor and the mentee.

You can also find information from 3rd parties that have experience in professional development and are capable of seeing the relationship for all that it can do, even when looking from the outside in.

Planning, intention, and definition will get you further in any mentoring experience than you ever anticipated. It’s amazing how much changes when both people feel empowered to communicate, contribute, and collaborate to the experience instead of just meeting up and hoping to learn something along the way.

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