I ask this question because I don't think we ask it of ourselves enough. We are always eager to be mentored and to find that perfect mentor that we often forget to ask ourselves - "What will it take from me to be a good mentee?".
The Mentor/Mentee relationship is not all about going in one direction, there is lots of back and forth and if you want to get the most out of it, it's important to realize what you, the Mentee, need to bring to the table to be successful in this relationship.
What do you want out of this?
The biggest failure in a Mentor/Mentee relationship is not knowing what you want to get out of it. Sometimes we are so excited to have the relationship that we forget to ask ourselves - "What do I want to get out of this? And what am I not looking for?". Mentors come to the table with experience and their own worldview of what they went through when they were in your position (which is why you have sought them out) but sometimes, what they are offering might not be what you need.
- Am I looking for technical guidance?
- Do I want to focus on leading technical teams?
- Do I want to learn more about design and architecture?
- Am I looking for someone to review my work?
- Do I need to focus on some soft skills?
Of course, these are the hardest questions to ask yourself - "What do you want?" - but until you do and until you are upfront with your mentor about what you need from them, the relationship won't grow in the way that you hope it will.
Everyone gets busy, everyone is doing other stuff, but if you're not meeting on an agreed-upon schedule, it won't happen. I find ad-hoc mentoring just that, ad-hoc, meaning it's "come as you are, if I have some information, I'll impart it, but we don't have a plan, a direction, a goal in mind". This is perfectly acceptable, but if you've answered any of the above questions in mind, you know what you want and know you need some help to get there. To that end, you need to work out when you meet.
In most of these relationships, you would generally start off meeting weekly and depending on the goals and maybe go bi-weekly after a bit (I generally tend to not go more than two weeks without interfacing with someone to avoid things falling through cracks).
More importantly, though, is when you do meet when you do have it scheduled - I place a big onus on the mentee coming prepared and ready to go for those meetings. Sure you're going to have the one bad day where you're rushed or flustered but that's the exception and not the rule. When a mentee comes prepared for our sessions, I know they are committed, I know they are in it, and I know they are dedicated to achieving the goals that we've laid out for them.
There is no greater feeling when your Mentee pushes you to be better each time you get together. Your Mentors want to grow, they want to become better Mentors, they want to improve and the only time they do that is when their Mentees push back for more.
"I need more here."
"Can we dig into this? What would you do here?"
"What could I do better?"
At some point, you'll be in a great spot with your Mentor, you'll be getting along, laughing, talking, giving high-fives and you'll realize - "wait, am I still improving?". In some cases, your mentorship with this person might be over, you've learned what you can, but there is more that you need to do to grow, it might be time to move on. Or, perhaps you've become too comfortable and you need to push them for more and start being harder on you again.
It's natural as we become more comfortable with people, the discomfort starts to melt away, but it's that discomfort that makes the relationship so valuable and so important to succeed. But the first in any mentorship relationship is knowing that you need to bring everything to the table in not only selecting but in working with a mentor.
I wrote a book about
being a Developer and Leading Software Teams - Code Your Way
Up - available as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon
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