Almost everyone is seeking a great mentoring relationship. Whether you are a mentor or want to be mentored, it can be challenging to foster a high quality mentoring experience. A great mentoring relationship is such an elusive thing.
I have found 3 characteristics of high-quality mentoring relationships. Shared experience, mutual vulnerability, and showing up can result in the meaningful mentor/mentee relationship we all seek. This triple threat is not something we look for but rather can take steps to develop.
I think the most important quality of a great mentoring relationship is shared experience. I have always admired those who have served our country. I am amazed at military units who bring people together from all walks of life and geographic locations and yet become and remain best of friends. Certainly shared life-threatening experience causes a relational and emotional bond that can't be described. But I think it goes deeper than that. When you are sitting or waiting for hours or days, conversation about personal matters eventually comes to the surface in a completely different way than trying to awkwardly sitting down over a cup of coffee.
Don't get me wrong, I think the cup of coffee mentoring session is extremely valuable. But there's nothing like a shared mundane experience to fast-track a mentoring relationship. I always say that you need to dig a ditch together. Digging a ditch offers space for conversation to develop naturally. Situations where you are working toward a common goal encourage getting to know each other in the process.
In our residency program we found one of these shared, mundane experiences while driving several hours together to an event (this assumes the parties are willing to embrace the boredom without their cell phones). Another shared experience can be working on projects together. It is in the down time and the collaboration of the project where relationships are solidified.
Action step for the Mentor: Find something you can do together even if it is unrelated to physical therapy. Think about what opportunities there are and suggest doing something together.
Action step for the Mentee: Ask your mentor if there is a project that she needs help with. The more boring/tedious the better. If your mentor doesn’t offer anything, find out what she is working and and offer to show up.
Vulnerability is the secret sauce of relationships and the mentoring relationship is no exception. If your mentoring relationship is not where you would like it to be, most of the time it points back to vulnerability. The mentee needs to be vulnerable with the mentor. He needs to share his greatest fears and deepest secrets. This causes the mentor to understand the mentee tremendously better and be invested in an entirely different way.
However, I think it is exceptionally important for the mentor to be vulnerable too. Sharing your failures is key; but to be honest, I have a hard time recognizing my failures. I don’t know if I just mentally block them so as not to relive them or if I just immediately put some sort of positive spin on them. Since I don’t recognize my failures, I even have a harder time articulating them. But as often as you can and as best as you can you really need to.
Action step for the Mentor: Another way to show more vulnerability to your mentee as a mentor is to involve him in drafts of your projects. Particularly early drafts that aren't good and are not polished. The mentee needs to see how much goes into the good looking outward face that he is used to seeing. Involve him in your ideas when they are barely in the formative phase. The mentee will hear some of your really bad ideas and then watch you change 180 degrees from your original idea.
Action step for the Mentee: Make an effort to share your feelings and fears with your mentor in your next mentoring session. Tell her something that you are worried about or something that is making you anxious. You will be surprised at the results and the vulnerability that is usually reciprocated (if not immediately, it will happen).
In the book Chop Wood, Carry Water one of the things that bothered Jenna and I was that the mentor always just showed up. He always seemed to be there just at the right time. In our residency program we believe that mentoring is not what is provided by the mentor but rather what is sought by the mentee. Yet in this book, the mentee never seeks the mentoring and yet the mentor is always there. We are bothered by that because we thought it gave the impression that the mentor does all the work in a relationship. I’ve changed my mind. I believe that the mentor needs to be aware and see where the mentee is struggling. It's at that point in time the mentor is there with a powerful question “how is it going?”
Action step for the Mentor: Anticipate when your mentee might need you. Figure out where the pain points are and what he is worried about. A well-timed phone call or note can go a long way to bridge the mentor/mentee gap.
Action step for the Mentee: Make sure you have reviewed and made progress on the things that you've previously discussed with your mentor. Your mentor has invested a lot into seeing you succeed. I can say from a mentor’s perspective, it is incredibly refreshing when a mentee comes in and shares the progress made since the previous session. You don’t always need to agree with your mentor’s idea or advice, but you need to have taken tangible steps since your last meeting.
Try one of these ideas in your next mentoring session and see if you can take that experience to the Triple Threat level.