5 Habits of a Highly Effective Mentee

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.”

We all know that having a mentor in our lives will bring positive changes and will challenge our thinking, thereby expanding the possibilities. So, are mentees equipped with sufficient practical advise and tools to empower them to nurture their mentoring relationship, to take the lead of their own development and progress towards their professional and personal goals with the support of their mentor?

Whilst catching up with a friend who just returned from the London Business School to complete her MBA, we coincidentally ended up talking about ways to take charge of your own professional and personal development. Throughout my 14-year career at a Fortune 100 company, I was blessed with mentors and line managers who were extremely supportive and provided clear guidance to help me progress both in my professional and personal career aspirations.


Whilst sharing with my friend how I positioned myself as an effective mentee , she asked me to run a workshop and share these success enablers with the 2017 Hong Kong University MBA cohort who are starting their 6-month mentoring journey.

Be in the driver’s seat

During the preparation for the workshop with the HKU MBA students, I reflected back on how mentoring programs prepared me to make the most out of my mentorship. Out of 4 programs that I joined, there was not much emphasis on providing mentees with handrails to be effective and to feel empowered to lead their development conversation with their mentors. The focus is mainly on the mentors who are given insights on listening skills, coaching tools and how to provide feedback constructively to be an inspiring aide to their protégé.

Yes, even though mentoring is a two-way relationship, the mentee will definitely benefit the most from this relationship. As such, it’s even more vital for mentees to understand that they are in the driver’s seat to take charge and leverage on the mentorship.

What do mentors expect from their mentees?

I’ve asked some high caliber mentors about their expectations of a highly effective mentee and this is what they had to say:

“Be specific on what you want to achieve in the mentorship.”
“Listen with an open mind, reflect, take actions, reflect, and come back with your learnings.”
“Openly and honestly share your personal stories that make who you are.”
“Be organized about setting up and planning out our meetings and follow-ups.”

As mentees, we sometimes have exorbitant expectations of our mentors, yet mentors seem to want us to get the basics and foundations right in the first place.

Here, I will share with you the same tips and habits I presented to the Hong Kong University MBA students so you are set up for success to create a meaningful mentoring relationship that will inspire you to achieve your goals.

5 Habits to help you leverage on a mentoring relationship

Over the past 14 years, I worked with six mentors (at times a few simultaneously), 9 mentees and created a regional mentoring program for talented emerging leaders in Shell and joined multiple internal and external mentoring programs and circles. I wanted to share with you some of the habits that I found very useful as you navigate through your mentoring partnership

Drawing upon my own experience, here are 5 habits of highly effective mentees:

1.   Plan your goals and take actions!

Identify your big picture goal for the mentoring engagement and a mini-goal for each session you have with your mentor. The conversation will be more focused on solutions to help you to progress into the right direction. But remember, it’s not only knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know (you might enjoy reading this article that I published a few weeks back).

2.   It’s all about the right questions

Here’s an example of a bad question: "What career should I go into?" Without having an understanding of your background, values and personal preference your mentor won’t be able to provide you with tailored advise to suit your needs.

Here’s a more optimal question: “I’m deciding between these two jobs/ careers, both offer these benefits and these disadvantages. What are your views? Which factors should I consider most highly – salary, career progression, trainings etc?”

Provide options so your mentor understands your thought process and the dilemma you are facing in order to effectively provide their steer.

3. Have a long-term perspective

Mentoring relationships are like a friendship or romance — it takes time and trust. I know it’s important that you are prepared for the mentoring session, but don’t just bombard your mentor with all your questions during your meeting. Remember that trust needs time to develop and you will increase trust by creating rapport with your mentor. Be patient.

4. Don’t make the mentor do the work

As mentioned already, you have to take charge because you own your own development and not your mentor. It’s up to you to figure out what you need help on – that’s why understanding your mentoring goal to create the finish line is so important. Remember that you need to take initiative and ask if you need an introduction to someone, to figure out which of your career options is best, how to effectively balance work and life etc.

5. Be a Giver, not only a Taker

Your mentor provides you with guidance and support on a voluntarily basis. He/She takes time off from their busy daily schedule to help you progress towards your personal and professional aspirations. Just because you are more junior and at the start of your career, does not mean that you cannot provide your mentor with great insights for example to help them understand how Millennials and Gen Z like to be engaged in the workplace. Ask your mentor whether there is anything that you can help her/him with. It can be something little like recommending a great book that you have recently read.

Highly effective mentees realize that successful mentoring relationships do not happen automatically and result from genuine engagement and sustained effort. As a mentee, the success of the mentoring relationship depends on you and if you are serious about learning from your mentor, your mindset will be: “I am here to learn, and I am open to new perspectives even though they may make me feel uncomfortable. I feel empowered to take responsibility and accountability for my own life and for making my own development and career aspirations happen.”

“Mentoring is a two-way street. You get out what you put in." Steve Washington