Busy Toastmaster’s Guide to mentoring (Part IV)

by Lukas Liebich

First Meeting, Part One: The Rules

At the end of a mentoring program organized by my alma mater (the university I graduated from), I interviewed some mentees (university students). Overall, they were delighted with the program, but there was one thing that most of them complained about. Would you guess what it was?

No clear rules from the beginning of mentoring.

If you want to make your mentee happy, don’t make the same mistake. At the first meeting, tell them what the rules are.

Rules: A Quick Glance

In case you don’t have much time: Here’s a quick list of rules you can start using right now:

  • Set the duration of mentoring to 6 months
  • Limit your meeting time with your mentee to 60 minutes every month
  • Decide what communication channel you will use in between your meetings
  • Except for the first meeting, it’s the mentee’s responsibility to set the agenda
  • Both parties commit to the actions agreed
  • Both parties strive to keep the meeting times as agreed

It’s the Mentor’s Job to Set the Rules

In mentoring, the mentee needs to be active and come up with meeting agendas, questions, and ideas. Right?

Right. Except for the First Meeting. The first meeting with your mentee will set the tone, define the length of the relationship, set the rules for your interaction, and how you both will know whether you’re doing well – or not.

As a mentor, it’s your job to take the lead and prepare it. You will set the boundaries for your mentee. That will allow them to take an active role in the rest of the mentoring relationship.

Begin with the End in Mind

Like Stephen Covey taught us: Begin with the end in mind. When will your mentoring be finished? While I know some people who keep this open-ended, I advocate setting the end date from the very beginning—like with life, knowing that at one point it will all be all over motivates us to get the most out of every day.

Plus, setting an endpoint at the very beginning saves you from potentially awkward situations. When one or both parties start feeling that it’s time to move on and there’s no “exit plan,” they remain stuck in the mentoring relationship longer than necessary.

Mentoring for special situations (e.g., mentoring for speech contests, mentoring a leader in a District Role) can be a particular case. I prefer setting it to 6 months. This gives me and my mentee enough time to get to know each other while keeping the endpoint insight. You may want to decide on a different way to define the endpoint (the end of the contest season; the end of the official term). But the idea of setting and endpoint remains the same.

Plan Your Mentoring Interactions

Another thing to agree on is mentoring interactions. How often and for how long will you meet with your mentee? What will be some other means of communication?

Initially, I considered defining this an unnecessary administrative burden. I wanted to be available ALL THE TIME, after all. Isn’t that the most helpful? It isn’t. Like limiting the duration of mentoring, limiting (and defining in advance) the times that you will spend with your mentee will make them more productive.

Today, I promise to meet six times over six months of mentoring. One 60-minute session every month (the kick-off meeting is not included). In our corporate mentoring program, I got the inspiration for this, where junior employees are paired with senior executives. While the executives participated willingly (and often happily), they had their executive jobs to focus on.

Even when I’m not an executive – I’m trying to use my time well. To look for ways to make a high impact with a low-time investment.

So should you. Don’t you think?

By the way: By limiting the time you will be spending with your mentee, you will maximize the leverage of your mentoring. You will make your mentee more self-reliant. And here’s the thing: Knowing your availability is limited, your mentees will prepare better for the meetings with you – and even they will get more from that mentoring time with you.

Note: Despite all the above, you may still choose to be a more “hands-on” mentor and do more activities with your mentee than check their progress once a month. That’s fine. If you’re convinced, by all means, go for it. Later, I will share some detailed tips on “What to do with your mentee.” I just wanted you to know that setting the boundaries on your availability is your choice. Make it consciously!

Outside the mentoring sessions, you will probably be in touch via email, Whatsapp, or whatever communication tool you and your mentee prefer to use. The choice is up to you here – and again, be aware that you can make that choice here! For example, you may use Whatsapp for chatting with your friends and family and email for more serious activities. In that case, you can suggest to your mentee that they should reach out to you via email whenever they want to communicate anything that requires serious attention. A small thing, but it can prevent many misunderstandings!

Other Rules and Your Rules

Some additional rules I set up upfront:

  • The mentee is responsible for setting the agenda of the meetings.
  • We both commit to fulfilling the actions we agreed upon.
  • We strive to keep agreed meeting times. Of course, emergencies have exceptions.

These rules are pretty basic, and it never happened to me that the mentee would protest. But I always check if they’re OK with them. And I also give them the chance to add any rules they find essential. This way, they are OUR rules, not MINE.

Over time, you will find out that some rules work for you better than others. That’s OK; different people have different preferences!

The key message here is: In mentoring, you will make choices, and consciously making them will help you understand how those choices influence the relationship.

You can start with the rules outlined here. Over time, adjust them to suit your needs.

Step by step, work on becoming an even better mentor.

Lukas Liebich DTM-Cafe4

Lukas Liebich DTM-Cafe4