So recently my good friend Luke Dicken posted on his blog 10 Tips for Mentor/Mentee Relations. In his post he talked about the expectations and tips he gave to his undergrad students and how he found most of them applicable to those he now mentors through great programs like GameMentorOnline. As someone who has been a proud supporter (and mentor!) of GMO; an organizer, judge, and mentor for the IGDA Scholars Program, and a non-program oriented mentor for many other folks I thought I’d take his call to action and share some of the tips, tricks, and ways I structure my various mentoring relationships and what I expect of my mentee/proteges.

Three Types Of Mentor/Protege Relationships:
  1. Ad-hoc and Topic Focused Mentoring: This is a relationship I have with a mentee where we don’t have any real structure to the relationship, not even set check-ins, and the focus is usually in one area. In this case the mentee comes to me when they need advice in an area where I have expertise/contacts and generally only when they need it. I don’t set up regular check-in times and I expect them to take the initiative to come to me. In return, I promise to find time for them as soon as possible and help them to find the info, resources, etc. they need for success.
  2. Short-Term, Slightly Structured, and Goal Focused Mentoring: This is a relationship I have with a mentee where we have a little bit of structure (assignments, scheduled check-ins, etc.) but this is not about all kinds of topics but related to a specific goal. For example, the mentee wants to get a personal website up with a portfolio and a blog. So we have some initial chats, define a successful outcome, break down the goal into things to accomplish, and then I’m there to support them personally or with resources at my disposal for them to complete that job. I stick with them until the goal is reached or the goal is renegotiated or it is determined the goal is no longer needed (e.g. they wanted to work on buying a house but they just got offered a dream job in another country where their housing is covered while they have a job). I expect them to diligently work on the goal and in return I do the best I have with my bandwidth to help guide them and keep them on track towards success.
  3. Long-term, Structured, Life Focused Mentoring: This is a relationship I have with a mentee where we have a lot of structure (weekly email updates, regular chats, etc.) and is focused on their professional life, personal life, or both (recommended) – kind of like life/career coaching. We talk about their current environment and circumstances, what they like/dislike about their life, etc.  I then have them set 3-5 goals for 1 year, 3 year, and 5 years out. We usually then chat via IM about once a month where we go over what’s going on in their life, how they are doing with their goals, etc. At the end of each chat we set a number of goals (depending on scope and length of time between check-ins) that move them forward towards their 1, 3, and 5 year goals. Many of my mentees also then email me weekly – we set up Google Calendar appointments with reminders – to talk about the progress they are making (keeps them accountable and in their heads they have to do stuff) and review their progress at the next check-in and talk about why they are or are not gaining progress on certain goals. I expect them to work hard and do the best they can and in return I give them a lot of time and resources and make myself available to them 24/7 for any emergencies or if they have big news they need to share or things that will disrupt their goals for our next chat. I have been doing this kind of mentoring with some of my mentees for almost a decade now and sometimes I think I get more out of the relationship than I do as it is always a good reminder to myself at what I need to be doing. 🙂

My expectations for each mentee are different based on the type of relationship we have, who they are, and what the goal is, but in general here are some basic expectations I have for almost all of my mentees:

    1. I expect them to do the work. I’m happy to help them out as long but I’m not the one who should be doing all the heavy lifting, i.e. I’m not going to write their resume for them but I will help them format and polish their resume.
    2. I expect them to respect my time. If they aren’t doing the work, if they are missing check-ins or constantly needing to reschedule for ‘silly’ reasons, they aren’t respecting my time – time that could be used to help someone else out whose really working hard to make their dreams come true. If a person is consistently not performing or showing up and not for legitimate reasons (e.g. it’s an issue we’re actually focused on, they were ill, etc.) then I set clear expectations, boundaries, and deadlines but will ultimately terminate the relationship.
    3. I expect them to do the initial leg work. If it’s something they can easily Google and trust the answer on they shouldn’t come to me about it. If they do some research and can’t find the answer, find conflicting answers, or aren’t sure how to proceed with the answers then by all means let’s talk.
  1. Most importantly: I expect them to value themselves and what they bring to the table. If I am going to be your mentor (especially in the long-term life-focused relationship) then I expect them to recognize themselves for the wonderful human being they are, to stand up for themselves, to push and reach for higher and better things, and to not settle. I set high expectations/standards for them because over and over again it’s been proven that people do better when someone is showing them and telling them that they believe this person can achieve great things or accomplish their goals. For some of my mentees I’m often the first person whose really taken an interest in their goals and dreams and they’ve been continuously beaten down and told they aren’t good enough. I’ve seen amazing changes happen when they now have someone dedicated to helping them succeed in life and pushing them to even greater goals and happiness.

This is a short (and yet long) look into some of what I do as a mentor. Although it can often take a lot of time to mentor someone – and we definitely aren’t paid for that time! – I have found it to be one of the most rewarding things I do in my life. I just wish I had the time to do more. When you see someone get the job they wanted, when you help someone find the right doctor and treatment to fix their chronic health issue, when you get to make a lunch happen with one of your mentee’s role model/inspirations it becomes worth it. When one of your mentee’s tells you that they’ve taken on someone as a mentor in their area to ‘pay it forward’ it becomes worth it. When seeing your mentee reach high for their goals pushes you to reach yours it becomes worth it.

I’m sure if you looked back on your life there was someone who was there for you giving you the advice and guidance and help you needed so see if you can find the time today to do the same for someone else.

I’d like to end by encouraging everyone to think about finding that someone to mentor because it’s so easy to find so many places to do that. It could be:

  • the new person who just started at your company and could use someone to show them the ropes and go out to lunch with
  • the student at your local university who would be a great asset to your industry but just doesn’t know how to network
  • the go-getter who sought out GameMentorOnline and is looking for just the right person
  • one of the many bright and talented scholarship recipients through the IGDA Scholars Program (or similar for your industry)
  • the gal you met at a conference who spoke intelligently at a roundtable or had the courage to ask for help on a mailing list
  • or even the young girl or boy at your local Girl Scouts, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or community center who just needs someone to care.

“One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank, nor what my clothes looked like. … But the world may be … a little better because… I was important in the life of a child.” –Forest Whitcraft