Thinking About Becoming a Mentor? Don’t Forget to Ask the Right Questions

January is National Mentorship Month. I don’t know if mentors and mentees are supposed to exchange cards or small gifts every January, but I do know it’s a great time to say thanks to those who have helped you along the way.  I’m grateful for the wonderful mentors I’ve had in the past as well as those I turn to today.  But I also enjoy mentoring others as well — particularly young entrepreneurs

I think if you enter into a mentor-mentee relationship you’ll discover you get as much from it as does the mentee. Typically, we grow the most when we are put into teaching positions. As a mentor, you’ll get insights about yourself and your business that might otherwise never be revealed to you.

Hopefully I’ve sold you on the idea so now it’s my responsibility to give you a few tips on what to look for and questions to ask a potential mentee.  You can’t say “yes” to everyone.

1.  What are your goals one year, five years and 10 years out? You want a mentee who has a mental roadmap of the future. When mentees haven’t established a measurable outcome for themselves, it makes it impossible to function as a mentor.

2.  What do you want from me? Once you have a good view for how your mentee pictures his or her future, find out what piece of the puzzle you are expected to provide. Realistically, you want to make sure you’re the right fit. Can you meet this mentee’s expectations?

3.  Have you had success with any challenging projects? You want to get a feeling for commitment, a proactive approach and the ability to follow through. If you are going to invest your time; you want an equal partner in the relationship. Use this opportunity to ask about failures as well. We all have them. See what your mentee candidate has learned from failure and how your mentee has coped with that failure.

4.  How do you communicate best? or How do you communicate? Over time, growth between you and your mentee fully depends on good communication. You aren’t looking for answers like “email,” “phone” or “face-to-face.” You want to judge how forthright you can be with each other. Trust and confidentiality must be established and you must also be able to speak freely and frankly. Be sure your styles of communication work with one another.

These questions should lead to some good, open-ended discussions, but frankly I have one more question to share with you that may be even more important: What do you mean by that? It’s famed celebrity interviewer Barbara Walters’ secret weapon. Always ask a followup question—such as “What do you mean by that?”—that pushes the people you’re interviewing to dig more deeply and reveal more about themselves.
When you use it as you talk to your mentee, it will help you fast track the familiarity required to start building a solid relationship.

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