Creating a Mentor Relationship That Works

Both the mentor and the mentee contribute to the success of a mentoring relationship. Create the most productive relationship by following these tips.


Acknowledge natural strengths and coach weaknesses. Listen for what your mentee’s doing right and for her own good ideas. Be honest about your thoughts for improvement.

Share your big lessons. Tell your own stories, good and bad, but most importantly, what you’ve learned from your experience.

Don’t solve every problem. Coach your mentee on the art of finding solutions, rather than just giving advice about what you would do. Teach a person to fish, and she’ll eat for a lifetime, right?

Encourage thinking big. A mentee may be concerned about paying her bills this month, and your job is to help her see how she can pay her bills for the next five years.

Be clear about the time you can offer. Are you up for an email anytime or would you prefer a monthly contact? A quarterly phone call? An in-person lunch? Decide what you can offer and let your mentee know.


Respect your mentor’s time and willingness to help. Stick to your agreement of how and when you’ll be in touch. Don’t overdo it, and don’t drop the ball once someone has decided to invest in you.

Listen with an open, humble mind. You might get advice you don’t agree with, and you should definitely trust your gut instinct. But weigh suggestions carefully. One of my own mentors once gave me advice I vehemently disagreed with, but within 48 hours I could see he was absolutely right.

Ask good questions. Prepare to get the most out of your conversations with questions like: What’s been your biggest lesson in business or life? What mistake has taught you the most? What are three things you think I could do better?

Create accountability. End each session with a commitment to take some action that you can report on next time you meet. Deadlines make the world go around.

Post by Sara Urquhart, director and co-founder of Alt Summit. Photography by Kristin Vicari.