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Five exercises mentors and mentees can use to drive their partnership forward

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According to research by National Mentoring Day, employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than those who didn’t have mentors — and 89 per cent of those who have been mentored will go on to mentor others. It’s a powerful testament to the role of mentoring in personal development — as well as highlighting its crucial role in driving forward D&I within companies.

‘I believe mentoring is one of the strategies that can close the gender gap in leadership around the world’ says Pat Mitchell in her TED Talk ‘How to be a Better Human’. As the first female president of CNN Productions and PBS, she is a woman who knows about smashing glass ceilings: ‘Mentoring is one lever we can activate to advance more women in their work, to help them gain access to capital and economic opportunities they might otherwise miss and to be better prepared for opportunities when they come’.

And even in an age where some elements of this relationship may have had to migrate online, the power of mentoring — for both parties — is still clear: mentees develop their skills, grow their network and learn about new ideas and ways of thinking, while mentors reap benefits that include fresh perspectives, as well as the satisfaction of giving back and elevating another’s professional development.

All types of mentoring programmes — whether general mentoring, micro mentoring, reverse mentoring or situational mentoring around a particular issue — need to have a clear goal and a way to evaluate the programme’s success to be effective. And every mentoring relationship should start by defining these as its first exercise — for inspiration on how to do this take a look at everywoman’s workbooks on mentoring, including Understanding Mentoring and Mentoring: New Thinking, Best Practice.

However, once the framework has been established, how to bring the potential of this opportunity to life is entirely up to the participants. The best relationships in life are collaborative, and that includes mentoring — an effective mentorship is not a didactic enterprise; more a two-way conversation in which both parties commit to and learn from each other in a mutual goal. 

As such, a mentee should be prepared to take up some of the responsibility for cultivating the experience of mentorship, which includes coming prepared with specific questions, areas for feedback and clear requests for support — and even suggesting things they would like to do with mentors in order to expand their knowledge.

 

1. Let creativity flow with the ‘Yes and…’ rule

A great exercise to do when planning is to apply the ‘Yes, and…’ principle. This rule of improvisational comedy keeps a scene moving, and means saying ‘Yes, and…’ to a partner for every suggestion they come up with. The idea is to spark creativity and flow and can be useful when discussing goals, vision and ambitions. Start with a statement — perhaps, ‘I want to get promoted’ — which the mentor then counters with ‘yes and…’ until the idea is unpacked and reaches a natural conclusion. This can free up thinking around all sorts of ideas and help mentees to understand what they are trying to achieve and why. ‘Yes and…’ is the cornerstone of great creative relationships. When replacing ‘yes but’ with ‘yes and’ you are signalling to your colleague or mentee — positivity, partnership and potential’, says Philippa Waller, founder of creative business consultancy 4D Human Being. ‘With those two simple words you are encouraging them to focus on the ‘positive’ aspects of their ideas and thinking, you are signalling to them that together you are both in a co-creative partnership ready to build together and you are tapping into and unlocking their creative energy and potential.’

 

2. Look into the future with a Vision Statement

A vision statement looks towards what an ‘ideal future state would be’ and can be invaluable in helping a mentee align what they are doing in the present with how it will look and feel in the long-term. As Pippa Isbell, presenter of everywoman webinar, How to Create a Motivating Vision notes, ‘Having a vision is the difference between routine management and inspirational leadership. One keeps the business ticking over; the other leads to growth and success.’

The same is true of an individual’s ability to move forward with purpose, which is a core concern of any good mentoring process. Mentors can help mentees develop and refine their own personal vision statement using their skills, passions, personalities and values, and crucially a vision statement doesn’t need to be long — just impactful. Two or three lines of powerful imaging that takes into consideration how the goals being set in the mentoring process work together, where they will take the mentee and the environment in which they will exist, is enough to anchor ‘the future’ in the mind and inspire real commitment to it.

 

3. Shadow for illumination

Shadowing is a powerful tool. And for mentoring relationships, having a mentee shadow a mentor for a period of time or on a specific project can allow them to see the nuances of a particular role and successful skills and behaviours in real time. As a technique, shadowing has been around for a while, it actually predates structured mentoring programmes and was traditionally used for more junior employees. However, successful mentor-mentee shadowing can throw up visceral learning for more senior roles, and should be more than just a ‘looking activity’; mentees should note questions for follow-up conversations and anything of interest that they observe that could be used to support existing mentoring goals.

It’s possible to shadow online too if necessary, joining meetings or presentations remotely to observe. Or try an alternative method of shadowing where a mentor acts as a ‘shadow consultant’ on parts of a mentee’s project — discussing steps, decisions and strategies in real time.

 

4. State your case with a CV and LinkedIn refresh

Whether the mentee is looking for mentorship to help their progress within a company or to prepare to move roles, refreshing a CV and LinkedIn page with a mentor can be a great way to clarify where they are and where they want to go.  A mentor can provide invaluable feedback on these ‘shopfront assets’ especially if they are in or have been in a hiring role — this can include the softer skills a particular role might require, whether the mentee is representing themselves in the most dynamic and effective way and whether these documents still truly indicate the mentee’s skills, ambitions and capabilities. This makes it a useful exercise to do at the beginning of the mentoring relationship and at the end, adjusting the documents for the learning and growth that’s happened within the period. ‘Overhauling your CV is a great opportunity to re-assess your career strategically,’ notes Victoria McLean, CEO and Founder of City CV. As such, this exercise can also be a great opportunity for both the mentor and mentee to share and reflect on their own career progressions.

 

5. Get inspiration together with a book or podcast club

Inspiring discussions come from inspiring material and reading books together or listening to a great business podcast can be way to introduce big ideas into mentorships, helping both mentor and mentee on their growth journey. These resources could be around business skills the mentee wants to develop, greater understanding of key workplace issues such as D&I, ESG or the gender pay gap, or advice from role models or perspectives on business that you might not have considered. Decide on the source material, then read a section at a time and discuss the learnings, lessons or advice that come up at the end of each mentoring session — or pick a time to listen to a podcast together in real time (and take it in turns to suggest one). Try the everywoman podcast for inspiring content around changemakers and role models in business today. The FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year shortlist and The Business Book Awards shortlists are great places to start to find suitable books.