Four Questions That Could Improve Your Mentoring Relationship

By Meryl Herr

July 18, 2022

De Pree Journal

When was the last time you checked in with your mentee on how your mentoring relationship is going?

In an online survey of Christians aged 18-49, we asked respondents who had a mentor how satisfied they were with their mentoring relationship.[1] Nearly 80% said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied.[2] Still, the majority of respondents shared ways they thought their mentoring relationship could be better. Based on their suggestions, here are four questions you could ask at your next mentoring meeting to evaluate and potentially improve your mentoring relationship.

Would you like to meet in person?

Proximity. It’s the number one way survey respondents thought their mentoring relationships could improve.

Proximity. It’s the number one way survey respondents thought their mentoring relationships could improve. Although the majority of those surveyed meet with their mentors in person, many do not. For some, geographical separation makes meeting in person difficult. One respondent shared about her mentor, “She’s in California. I’m in Michigan. I would love to visit with her in person. It has been 5 years and we still haven’t met in person.” For others, the pandemic forced their mentoring relationships online, and they haven’t returned to in-person meetings.

Travel can be expensive and inconvenient. Meeting in person may feel uncomfortable for some people. But, would the benefits of an occasional in-person meeting be worth the potential costs or risks? Could you and your mentee attend a conference or retreat together? Could one of you take a short, weekend trip to visit the other? Could you both wear masks and meet in an outdoor cafe or park in order to reduce the risk of contracting COVID?

If meeting in person is a priority for both of you, work together to develop a plan for making that time together a reality.

Would you like to meet more frequently or more consistently?

Many mentees want more time with their mentors. Some of them realize that their mentors are busy and may not have more time to give, but that doesn’t change the mentees’ desire to spend more time with them.

Closely related to frequency is consistency.

Closely related to frequency is consistency. Fifty percent of our survey respondents who have mentors meet with them at least twice per month, but fifteen percent of survey respondents meet only annually or sporadically with theirs. More consistency would mean more time meeting and potentially a better relationship. When asked what could make their mentoring relationship better, one participant said they wanted to “continue a schedule of meetings. When we first started this relationship, we specifically set time aside each month or quarter, now we meet as time allows and as we need to run ideas past each other.”

Ask your mentee what they hope for in terms of the frequency and consistency of your meetings. Be honest about your availability. Then, work together to schedule your next two or three times together.

What could make our time together more fruitful?

Some survey respondents wanted more structure in their mentoring relationship. They wanted to work toward certain goals with their mentor or for their mentor to have a plan. A couple of participants wanted to discuss specific topics with their mentors. In short, these individuals wanted a more formal mentoring relationship.

But who should set the agenda? Who’s responsible for the plan? Many believe that it’s the mentee’s job. The mentee should come with questions. The mentee should come up with topics for discussion. Still, many mentors prefer to lead their mentees using a system they’ve developed. Perhaps they’ll read a book together and discuss it.

Even while some participants wanted more formality, a few wanted more informal times with their mentors. They wanted to have fun with them and spend time with them outside of their normal mentoring meetings.

At your next meeting, perhaps it would be wise to have a conversation about your time together. Share your expectations and come to an agreement on who will take charge of the agenda or the plan, should you decide that you need one. And if you’re one of the mentor-mentee relationships that would benefit from more informal time together, make a plan for that, even if that means having to figure out how to spend time together in person first.

What attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors could be inhibiting your growth?

When asked on the survey what could make their mentoring relationship better, a few mentees humbly admitted that it was them. They needed to change in order for their mentoring relationship to get better. One individual admitted that letting go of their fear of failure could improve their mentoring relationship. For another, not being completely honest with themselves was getting in the way.

Those sorts of admissions require introspection, self-awareness, and vulnerability. But they can also be the catalyst for growth for mentors and mentees alike.

In your next mentoring meeting, can you both share what personal obstacles could be getting in the way of your mentoring relationship? Can you offer one another grace while, at the same time, challenging and praying for one another to pursue growth in those areas?

Make way for clarifying conversations

Asking questions like these may feel awkward. Many mentoring relationships develop organically from other relationships, and sometimes neither mentor nor mentee pauses to define the relationship and discuss expectations. But these sorts of conversations, while awkward, can pave the way for a better mentoring relationship. And a better mentoring relationship will likely contribute to the flourishing of mentor and mentee alike.

Many mentoring relationships develop organically from other relationships, and sometimes neither mentor nor mentee pauses to define the relationship and discuss expectations.

Remember the good news: 8 in 10 of the mentees we surveyed said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their mentoring relationship. It’s asking questions like the ones above that can help a satisfying mentoring relationship be more effective.

[1]  In May 2022, we surveyed 244 people about their mentoring experiences. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 49, identified as Christians, and were not working in a professional ministry role at the time of the study.

[2] For the sake of the study, we asked those who weren’t sure they had a mentor to assume they did when answering questions about their mentoring relationship.

Meryl Herr

Director of Research and Resources

Dr. Meryl Herr is the Director of Research and Resources at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership where she designs and conducts research studies that add to the understanding of what helps marketplace leaders flourish. She also oversees the team’s efforts to convert research findings into r...

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