Kimberly Frazier, ACA’s 71st president

Last month, I discussed three steps to help you find a mentor that meets your needs: 1) Do your research. 2) Ask questions. 3) Determine if you and your potential mentor are a good fit. I also challenged you to evaluate your current mentors and mentoring needs using two central questions: What do I think are the most important characteristics in a mentor? And is this potential mentor a good fit for me? 

It is important to remember mentoring is used to help aid in navigating your leadership and career goals to pursue your life’s work. So far in our deep dive into mentoring, we have discussed the qualities of a good mentor, the steps to find a good mentor and the central questions that guide your process in finding a good mentor. 

This month, we will explore what the process of mentoring looks like. People repeatedly ask me how often they should reach out to their mentors, what specifically they should be asking for in the relationship and what they should do when disagreements occur. 

How often should I reach out to my mentor? The relationship you establish with your mentor at the beginning builds your mentoring foundation. From the start, you and your mentor determine how often you are in contact. As the mentee, you should be upfront about how often you would like to communicate and the way you would like to communicate (e.g., on Zoom, on the phone, in person). Your mentor should also be honest and let you know how much time they can commit to meeting with you. 

How frequently you meet with your mentor will vary depending on your needs and where you are in your career. In general, you could opt to schedule check-ins with your mentor twice a month. There will also be times when you need more in-depth mentoring such as when you are job searching or changing careers. Another time you may need more in-depth mentoring is when you are working with your mentor on a project or presentation. During these times, you may want to schedule Zoom or in-person meetings more frequently. Remember to communicate with your mentor when you need more or less time with them.

What should I ask for? Many potential mentees are unsure what to ask for in the mentoring relationship. The answer to this question depends on what you need help with. If you have selected the mentor for career guidance, then you should be asking about career-related questions. If you have selected the mentor to aid in leadership mentoring, then you should be asking about leadership opportunities and guidance. In each mentoring meeting, you should have specific questions and/or topics that you are seeking guidance on. Establish timelines for yourself and your mentor focused on your career goals and milestones and your professional development goals and milestones, so that you can track your progress and look for areas of potential growth. Remember you should have multiple mentors with expertise in specific areas to help you achieve your goals and pursue your life’s purpose.

How do I navigate disagreements? Like any relationship, disagreements between you and your mentor can and will occur. When this happens, it is important to be honest about your feelings and thoughts that have transpired because of the disagreement. It is also important to remember that how you see a situation may not mirror how your mentor views it. Your mentor’s job is to help you look at a situation from all angles, but ultimately you make the final decision about how to react or the next steps to take. Communication is the key when your opinion differs from your mentor’s. A good mentor is not going to expect you to agree with every opinion they have or follow every piece of guidance they give you.

Use these three questions to think about how you want to set up your mentoring relationships. This relationship should be a good fit for both you and your mentor, and it should allow you to be open and honest about your needs. Your needs in the mentoring relationship will change as your career and leadership goals and opportunities change. Communicate these changes openly with your mentor and be mindful that your mentor’s personal and career goals can also affect the mentoring relationship. 

For this month’s challenge, I want you to reflect on the type of mentoring relationship that works best for you. Think about what type of time commitment you want from your mentor, how often you want your mentor to contact you and how you best handle disagreements. Use the three questions posed in this month’s column to reflect on your current mentoring relationships; take note of the things that are working in your current relationships and things that may need to change based on your leadership and career needs. Remember, self-reflection is part of the journey needed to help achieve your life’s work. Until next month!