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Two-Way Street: How to Be An Great Mentee

Written by Tino Mukorombindo, MD MBA

Many people understand how to find mentors, but not nearly enough, people have mastered the art of being a mentee. In the relationship between a mentor and mentee, there are active roles that both will play. Here, we will focus on the role of the mentee. 

As a mentee, it is your responsibility not only to accept the knowledge and advice your mentor gives but also to have the ambition and desire to know what to do with the information you receive. You must also show respect for your mentor by actively practicing and demonstrating what has been taught. As a mentee, it is up to you to determine just how deep the connection will be. You will have to take the initiative to reach out to your mentor for the guidance and advice you need to tackle life’s challenges. 

It is important to remember that mentors do not HAVE to be your mentor. They do not HAVE to invest in you. Some mentors are even willing to use their reputation to open doors on your behalf, and they do not HAVE to do this. This means you must demonstrate qualities that show you are worthy of their effort! Some of these qualities include:

  • Eagerness to learn
  • Willingness to admit fault
  • Desire to be open. This means being willing to share both the high points (good grades, new scholarships) and low points (struggling with courses)
  • Ability and willingness to work as a team player
  • Patience
  • Positive attitude

First meeting:

it is essential for you to convey confidence, as your mentor is likely an outstanding individual. You will need to show them that you are as invested in your own success as they should be in your success. During your first meeting, here are some things to do:

  • Dress professionally. Whether they request to meet you at a coffee shop or their office, you need to show that you are serious and you will not waste their time. Remember, you can only make a first impression once.
  • Bring a notepad and write down the advice they give you. Use it to create a checklist, and when you follow up via email or face-to-face meetings, reference their previous advice and show that you executed it and discuss the results. Your new mentor will love it and begin to invest you even more. 

Building and Sustaining the Relationship

  • Allow your mentor to take the lead in the relationship, at least initially. Listen and respect the opportunities, limitations, and format of the relationship he or she can provide for you. Always act with courtesy and respect towards your mentor.
  • Be intentional – Prepare the goals and objectives you have for your career. Be prepared to ask for specific guidance and advice on your goals, plans, and strategic ideas. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for your mentor to help you.
  • Respect the relationship – Assume the mentoring connection will be strictly professional. This does not mean you cannot be yourself, or you cannot be friendly. Let your mentor take the lead in establishing a more friendship-based connection. Do not intrude into your mentor’s personal life or expect to be close friends. If you have a cross-gender relationship, any romantic involvement is inappropriate. Ensure your mentoring connection does not give the appearance of favoritism or being inappropriate/romantic.
  • Be visible – if it is possible, attend conferences where your mentor is present, spend time in the clinical or research lab with your mentor, or even stop by their office just to say hello if it is appropriate. Doing so will paint an image in your mentor’s mind that you are invested in this and are worth their own investment. 
  • Persistence is critical – Mentors are busy and take this role voluntarily. Recognize this and follow up frequently and consistently. If your mentor doesn’t respond to your initial email, phone call, or text, this is not the time to “fall back.” You might have to reach out two or three more times to get a response. Professionals are busy, but being persistent shows motivation and commitment.
  • Be available and flexible – As mentioned above, physicians are very busy, and time with them can sometimes be limited. They are taking time out of their schedule to help grow and develop you as a mentee. If they suggest certain times to meet or call, try your best to stick to it, no matter how inconvenient it is. If you do need to cancel or reschedule, let them know ahead of time.
  • Be open and honest – Let your mentor know some of the main things that you want to develop from the relationship from the first meeting. This helps build a solid foundation from the beginning.
  • Ask questions – A mentor is a mentor for a reason. Ask them questions about their career and experiences at work. This also shows that you are engaged and curious 
  • TAKE THE INITIATIVE and ask for feedback – Feedback, although difficult to hear at times, is critical to your personal and professional growth and development. Demonstrate that you are open to hearing new ideas and suggestions to bring out your best and overcome any blind spots. Get feedback on specific issues, for example, how you come across to others. Ask for specific details to ensure you understand particular behaviors. Most of all, do not get defensive.
  • Seriously consider all advice or suggestions you receive – Arguing why the mentor’s advice would not work, can be construed as rude and close-minded. However, it is normal for you to not agree with everything you are told. So take the time to LISTEN before you react. 
  • Execute the plan – Demonstrate that you have followed advice or commitments for action at every opportunity, even if you have modified your plan. We recommend that you point out that you used your mentor’s help and sharing what the outcome was. It will only serve to strengthen your bond.
  • Be appreciative – Express your appreciation for every form of assistance you get. Provide positive feedback, thanks, as well as positive comments to him/her/them in front of others.
  • Show respect to your mentor, even when they are not around – Make only positive or neutral comments about your mentor to others. If you disagree with your mentor’s values, behaviors, or attitudes, discuss it with him/her directly. Respect your mentor’s confidence and trust. It will also serve you well, as the person who may have negative comments will recognize the integrity you possess and show more respect. 
  • Your relationship can continue, even after it ends – Follow up with your mentor after termination to keep in touch, to share your progress, and to continue to express your gratitude. By doing so, you will keep the door open to return to your mentor for assistance or advice at a later time.
  • Finally, never burn bridges – The higher up you go in life, the more you will recognize how well-connected people are. Many of the top administrators and physicians know each other. If you are unable to maintain a relationship with your mentor, respectfully leave the relationship. If others ask you your opinion on them, continue to remain neutral and respectful. You never know who knows who.
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