12 Best Practices for Your Mentoring Relationship

By Catherine Hodgson
Chief Executive Officer of The Hodgson Group
YPO member since 2009

When it comes to mentoring, I’m often asked about best practices in a formal mentoring relationship. I have been working on the YPO Mentoring Program for eight years, from being involved in a pilot program in Cape Town to running the program globally for YPO for the past four years.

We have tested many variables, and I have spoken to many mentors and mentees on the program, read endless books by experts on the topic as well as spoken to them, and I have also experienced the program first-hand by being both a mentor and a mentee. These are the things that have proven to be the best practices time and time again:

1.     12 months:  There is no ideal length of time for mentoring, however, we have found that in most cases, 12 months seems to be a good length of time for a mentoring relationship. Sounds long, but it goes so quickly! It’s also less than you think as it equates to only about 10 meetings a year. Less than this often results in not going deep enough or skirting other issues. It usually takes two or three meetings to build rapport, trust, set a purpose and build some goals.

2.     2 hours face-to-face: There is also no ideal length of time for a meeting. However, for a face to face, in-person meeting, allow 2 hours with some leeway, should you require a little more. However, this also depends on the time that the mentor has available. At the beginning of the meeting, check in with each other to see what time you both need to wrap up. My meetings with my mentor usually last between 2 and 2 and a half hours. However, in one session we went on for over 3 and half hours and hadn’t even realized it – we didn’t even lose concentration!

3.     1 hour virtual: For virtual meetings on Skype, Facetime or on the phone, the meetings will be shorter. Book one hour meetings and if you are both finding that they are easy to do, then you can extend to 90 minutes. Longer than this and you will lose concentration. Ensure there are no distractions or interruptions!

4.     Initial meeting: Your first meeting should be about an hour. Use this to discuss your mentoring needs, mentoring strengths, your values, what you are passionate about, what keeps you up at night, what you expect from your mentoring relationship, etc. We call this the “coffee shop meeting” as it’s really a meeting to see if there is chemistry as well as if you can work together in a mentoring relationship. Your mentoring relationship is based on trust and respect – if you don’t have these two ingredients then don’t go ahead with it. At the end of this session you should be able to decide whether you want to go ahead with your relationship. This meeting can be in-person, on the phone or on Skype. Don’t try and do it by email as it’s too impersonal.

5.     Meet regularly to maintain momentum: Set the date for your next meeting while you are together – in fact you can set up all your dates at the beginning of your mentoring relationship, if that’s easier. If you don’t set up dates beforehand, it’s very easy for your monthly meetings to end up being meetings that you have once every three months – you are then going to lose the momentum. Even if one of us is travelling, my mentor and I still plan to meet via Skype or email so that a connection is made monthly.

6.     Where do you meet? That’s up to you and your mentor, however, I would recommend a place that is quiet and confidential. The mentor usually chooses the place to meet, so that may be at his office, which can be a bit intimidating to some mentees. Coffee shop? This can be a bit noisy and tables are quite close together. My mentor and I meet at a hotel in their restaurant in the morning, which offers a less noisy environment, but it’s not completely behind closed doors. The main thing is that it serves endless cups of cappuccino! It works for us and I haven’t been embarrassed if I’ve shed a tear or two – so whatever is comfortable and works for both of you! If, however, you don’t feel that the meeting place is right, then speak up and say so. It’s your meeting, too!

7.    Keep the discussion confidential: All meetings are to be completely confidential and nothing to be discussed outside of the meeting unless both agree that it can be shared.

8.     Get some training: We presume that we know what we are doing because we mentor people in our organization on a daily basis. However, believe me, mentoring someone out of your organization is a completely different ball game. Only after I had a mentee and had been in the relationship for a few months, did I realize that I actually knew nothing about mentoring and needed training. Our meetings were becoming “coffee and muffin meetings” without a structure! Hence began my seven-year journey of developing mentoring material for the mentoring program and ensuring there was a structure around meetings.  Attend a Mentoring Masterclass, read mentoring articles and watch videos – it will all help for you to become a more confident mentor and mentee. Plus, I found that a lot of these materials I could then use in my own business, for mentoring my own staff and sharpening my leadership skills… win-win!

9.     Mentee drives the relationship: Yes, the mentee needs to set up the meeting, prep and send the agenda to their mentor a few days before the meeting (just in case your mentor needs to prepare anything for the meeting). I’m not so good at this and tend to leave it to the last minute and then fire a quick email to my mentor. However, it is best to spend time on the agenda, reflect what happened last meeting and add things to it throughout the month as things come up, then refine it a few days before… something I am still working on! The mentee should spend at least an hour prepping for their meeting. It’s also a good idea for the mentee to send summary notes to his mentor after the meeting should his mentor require these.

10. Set a purpose for your mentoring:  This is really important as you need something by which to measure the success of your mentoring engagement. Write it down! Then refer back to it as you go along. Remember that this purpose will lead to goals that can be set and changed along the way.

11. Giving feedback is essential: Check in with each other every second month to ensure that you are both getting something out of the mentoring sessions. It’s no use if you are both not getting anything out of it. Be honest and open with each other. At the end of each of my sessions with my mentor, we both give feedback about the session and what we got out of it. My mentor also wants to know if he is being helpful and making a difference, so it’s really more important than you think!

12. Closure: At the end of the mentoring relationship, end it formally. Celebrate it with each other by going out for lunch or a drink. Reflect on both of your learnings and discuss how you want to stay in contact (if you do). A relationship that is not ended properly is unfinished business and does not feel like a satisfactory experience.

Your mentoring relationship should be a rewarding and enriching experience for both of you. Use these best practices and you should not go wrong. Use these as a guideline and adapt it to suit your style and what works best for both you and your mentor/mentee.

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