Mentoring is one of the most satisfying parts of a career. Enjoy meeting people and guiding them. Develop talent and give back! Here are a few tips on how to manage mentoring requests and mentees.
When you have a desirable job, you may be inundated with requests for mentoring and informational interviews. You may not have any free time in your days, so time spent mentoring is time away from family, exercise, or other priorities. But you may remember being on the other end and want to help those seeking guidance. Giving back feels good, and it is satisfying to help grow the next generation of leaders in the fields we have spent years investing in. If you are in this fortunate position, it can help to have some personal practices to make the most of your mentoring capacities.
Here are a few ideas to give back while managing your own time.
Limit mentees. You have to, or you will not have time for your own work, development, or personal life. Anyone in successful positions become inundated with requests, and want to help others. Be smart about how to do this.
Batching. Host a lunch information-hour session, intern roundtable, or other group event. This does not work well for disparate incoming requests, but can be a great alternative to individual meetings if there is demand.
Divide and conquer. Ask among your peers whether the same people are reaching out to all of you for mentoring. This happens a lot when someone is interested in a certain group or subject matter area. Decline, or keep sending the mentee to the same person, rather than have one mentee take up slots with multiple leaders.
Delegate. Accept requests, then pass them along to your team or lower-level colleagues, perhaps by subject matter. Engineer? Please meet the team’s senior engineer. Scientist? MBA? Intern? Find an appropriate contact. This is good experience for the rest of the team, and a useful initial screening mechanism. This is a good approach if a valued contact such as a favorite prior boss requests that you talk to someone and you do not have time but want to oblige. If you do not have direct reports, share with your peers across the organization.
Be comfortable declining. You control your calendar. A culture of frequent internal networking is a good thing, but mentees should have the courtesy to reach out personally before scheduling a meeting. If someone sends a calendar invite without an initial email to ask for a meeting or explain the purpose, decline.
Invest deeper effort in mentees whom you enjoy coaching and see high potential. One of our experts shares: “I spent many hours with a particular mentee one year, helping her mold her career path. We became friends. I learned a lot from her too-as a millennial without children she was more in touch with current trends. It was time better spent than having a dozen more surface-level mentor/mentee meetings with a bunch of other people. I called her from taxis while on business travel, while changing my baby’s diaper, and at other odd times when she had urgent questions, because I cared. She rode around town with me on errands in the rain on the weekend because that is when I had time to talk. I was proud of her accomplishments and took her out to lunch to celebrate milestones.”
If you feel bad about offloading requestors, think about it this way. You could spend all day, every day, counseling people. But then you wouldn’t be doing your job or tending to your own life. No famous leader is available constantly for individual mentoring sessions. Some will write a book with their learnings, stay close with a small evolving circle over the years, and speak at events. They still reach many people, but in ways that leverage contributions.
Bottom line: cultivate mentor relationships most deeply with those who listen well, follow up, and are enjoyable company.
When mentees disappoint
For those who disappoint or offend, give clear feedback on next steps they can take, then move on.
For those who are too many steps removed from your position to be practical relationships, such as much younger or in entirely different fields, perhaps agree to a quick meeting if you have been asked by someone you want to be responsive to. Then refer them to lower-level people in your organization or elsewhere.
If you are going to recommend or refer the mentee, request confirmation first that she would follow up and seek advice from the person. If the person’s mindset is unrealistic, not open to feedback or potentially insulting to your contacts, limit effort spent. An expert shared that she sent an employee known as a ‘rising star’ to two well-positioned executives for shadowing and coaching so that she could grow her network and exposure to the business. Aside from brief outreach, she blew off the contacts and did not meet with them. She did not connect her with other mentors going forward.
Repeating the same general themes over and over is inefficient and tiring, especially when recipients disappoint. Partly that disappointment can be because we recognize and remember our own less-than-perfect behavior when we started out-it is embarrassing! And we want to help others mature without making more mistakes. Consider writing a short piece about what it takes to get into your field and general advice on the various pathways and approaches. Then give a link or copy of the piece before meeting, and offer to discuss questions.