How to Make the Most of Mentoring Relationships

Looking for a mentor? Here are a few considerations to help you choose the right mentoring relationships and to make the most of them.

1. Clarify that a mentor is what you really need.

If you’re looking for a senior leader to advocate for you and recommend you for a role or promotion, then you need a sponsor – not a mentor. If you need someone who can ask you thought-provoking questions to help you clarify your goals and how to achieve them, a coach may better suit you.

A mentor is someone who shares wisdom and advice based on their experience, a trusted guide who is typically farther ahead of you on your path.

Few people can play the sponsor, coach and mentor role for you at the same time. You may want to go to multiple people to fill these different roles for you.

2. Get specific about what you want to learn or develop.

For example, if you want to learn how to come across like a seasoned pro in an earnings call, seek out a mentor (or several) who have done this well.

3. Choose someone who doesn’t make it all about them.

Good mentors likely have a lot of experiences and wisdom to share. But they are selective based on listening to you and discerning what might be most helpful for you.

4. Make it easy for a mentor to say ‘yes’ to mentoring you.

Most people are more eager and willing to help us than we think they are – especially when they’re being asked for their advice. And yet they also appreciate and are more likely to respond positively to a small and specific request. (I.e., “Are you willing to spend 20 minutes with me in the next few weeks to share tips on how you’ve started new roles well?”

5. Clarify expectations up front.

You may envision a mentoring relationship where you have an hour lunch every other week over the next year. Your potential mentor may think this is a one-time conversation. Consider starting with a low commitment (e.g., one initial conversation) and then confirm mutual fit and clarify expectations about objectives and how often, when and how long you’ll meet.

6. Don’t limit mentoring relationships to those more senior than you.

Stanley and Clinton in their book Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life describe their research findings about leaders who led well over the long term. Leaders who establish and maintain a constellation of mentoring relationships are more likely to finish well. By constellation, they mean several mentoring relationships with those they’re learning from (upward), those they’re learning with (peers) and those they’re mentoring (downward.)

Reverse mentoring, where a person more senior in their career seeks mentoring from a more junior person, can also be helpful and is being used extensively in technology and diversity, equity and inclusion areas.

What are the next steps you will take to get the mentoring relationships in place that you need?

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps leaders and teams stay energized while achieving extraordinary relationships and results that matter. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.