Lacking Mentorship? Become an Amazing Mentee. Written by Allison McWilliams for the Huffington Post, October 17, 2017.

Man walking in front of wall that says "Productivity"

Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

A common complaint of professionals of all skill and experience levels is the need for, and perceived lack of, effective mentorship. Why, people often wonder, won’t anyone mentor me? Why isn’t anyone supporting my growth and development, tapping me on the shoulder for opportunities, or looking out for me? There are a whole host of possible reasons for this, ranging from poor individual management to an organizational culture of micromanagement. And, it’s important to note, many of those reasons are outside of your purview of control: you’re not going to make your manager a better manager, and, unless you sit in a position of influence, you’re not going to make the organizational culture more open and supportive.

But you do have the ability to control your behavior and your career path. A little known principle of effective mentorship is that most of the work and responsibility for the relationship actually sits on the mentee’s not the mentor’s shoulders. If you’re not receiving effective mentorship, the number one place you should look is in the mirror. Stop blaming other people for your lack of growth and advancement. No one likes a whiner, and it’s not going to get you anywhere, anyway. Instead, become an amazing mentee who people want to mentor. Like the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.”

What does an amazing mentee look like? Here are six qualities that I look for:

  1. Self-directed. No one wants to mentor someone who is constantly seeking to be told what to do and how to do it. That’s babysitting, not mentoring. And you’re a grown-up, fully capable of taking responsibility for yourself. Look for ways to solve your problems on your own, and then seek guidance from those with more experience than you for the problems that are too big for you. Don’t bring “fix this for me” problems, bring “based on the research that I’ve done, here’s what I’m thinking about doing, from your experience how would you advise me to proceed” questions.
  2. Goal-oriented. Before you can ever expect someone to support your growth and development, you have to do the hard work of thinking about your skills, opportunities, and possible next steps. Set some goals for your growth and development, and then think strategically about who would be the best person to help you to work towards achieving those goals. Sharing your goals with others demonstrates your own commitment to your growth and development.
  3. Relational. Mentoring relationships have two key elements: they are goal-oriented, and they are relationships. Think for a moment: how strange would it be if someone approached you out of the blue and asked you to be his or her mentor? You have to do the hard work of building relationships with people, getting to know them as people, and finding natural points of connection. Don’t just charge in, demanding that someone take an interest in you. Give him or her a reason to take interest in you by building an intentional, two-way relationship.
  4. Team player. Generally speaking, people who are worth investing in are people who invest in others. Don’t discount the value of peer-to-peer relationships, or relationships with people who sit lower than you on the organizational chart. Look for ways that you can support their work, their growth and their development. People who are only in it for themselves are not valuable contributors to teams or organizations, no matter how great they may be at their daily tasks.
  5. Lifelong learner. You have to be willing to work on yourself. And that means putting yourself in a place of constantly learning and growing. After you set some personal or professional goals for yourself, commit to work towards those goals, whether or not someone walks beside you on that path. None of us can be successful in a vacuum, but ultimately your career and your ability to grow and progress along that path is up to you and you alone. Seeking out the advice and counsel of mentors is one way that we can learn. But so are books, TedTalks, formal education, leadership development programs, and a whole host of other opportunities. Commit to getting smart about your industry, profession, and role, and use that knowledge in your conversations with potential mentors.
  6. Humble. Great mentees know and acknowledge that they don’t know it all. This is not the same as being self-deprecating, nor is it being unwilling to speak up for one’s self. Adopting an attitude of humility means expressing gratitude, asking for and respecting the wisdom of others, and recognizing that everyone has something to teach us, if we just keep our eyes and ears open to it.

Notice that nowhere on that list do I mention talented, smart, or overachiever. Those qualities have their place, there’s no doubt about it, and I definitely want talented, smart, overachievers on my team. But hard work beats innate talent every day of the week.


Want more tools to become an amazing mentee? Check out Five For Your First Five: Own Your Career and Life After College and start today.