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Candor with Care: Jozef Opdeweegh on the Relationship between Mentor and Mentee

Relationship between Mentor and Mentee

Jozef Opdeweegh has more than 20 years of experience as a CEO, Chairman and Board Member of private and public global companies. He’s a seasoned executive with experience leading best-in-class enterprises and has a track record with demonstrable and repeated success in complex business and cultural transformation projects. Jozef Opdeweegh shared his latest thoughts on the mentor and mentee relationship, highlighting the lessons he’s learned from his career as a senior executive. 

Leaders who haven’t discovered the benefits of mentoring others are missing out on a great opportunity to not only help their organizations perform better but also to mold future leaders who will, in turn, mentor others. Mentoring is a very worthwhile endeavor both inside, as well as outside an organization.

To understand what mentoring means to people in a business context, it may be useful to assess the concept when it’s practiced outside commercial organizations. Take my love of tennis, for example. When I want to improve my game, learn a new technique, or challenge myself to go past my limits, I look for a mentor to help me:  someone with expertise, experience, and knowledge of the game, and who is interested in sharing their insight with others.

Finding a mentor and building a strong mentor-mentee relationship takes time and dedication on the part of both individuals, but if done well, both also benefit immensely from each other. Mentees gain expert support and advice on how to achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the relationship (I got a mean back swing!). Mentors, on the other hand, enhance their leadership skills, broaden their perspective, and increase their overall experience and fulfillment from their careers. 

Now, let’s take this discussion on mentoring and the mentor-mentee relationship into an organization. How much more beneficial is establishing a mentoring program, and creating a culture of growth, in the workplace? What is the role of a mentor and that of the mentee? We take a closer look below.

For both leaders and employees, the mentor-mentee relationship is one of the most important long-term relationships that will develop within an organization. This is because mentors serve as long-lasting role models for their mentees. They are the people whom others look up to and respect, setting the bar for standards of behavior and achievements. 

Mentors don’t only help their mentees develop skills and capabilities. They also support their achievements and career path through goal-setting, building a plan of action focused on how to achieve these objectives within an agreed time frame. Mentees, meanwhile, must be coachable, willing to listen as much as to talk, and keen to learn from the insights their mentors impart or suggest.

Mentors should always give constructive feedback, and do so in a way that guides their mentees on where they want to go. One of the best ways to provide feedback is by applying the SMART-principle, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals. Mentees, on the other hand, must be open to the feedback they receive, using it to take action, make decisions, and grow. Of equal importance is the mutual trust and confidence to push back on feedback when needed.

What makes a mentor-mentee relationship successful? 

While there are different mentor-mentee relationships, the keys to their successes are often similar if not the same.

The mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street built on mutual respect or one I refer to as a candor with care relationship, where each party has deep care and respect for the other.

There must also be a personal connection between the parties. This connection can be anything, from shared values and beliefs to having the same alma mater or even hometown.

Of course, any successful relationship should grow with effective communication between parties. Feedback must always be clear, concise, and most of all, constructive. Feedback should be tactful, never harmful – as I said, candor with care!

Lastly, both mentor and mentee should have a shared understanding of the goals of the relationship in order for it to be successful. Let’s keep in mind that the relationship is a commitment to each other and to achieving goals that both parties set. It’s not just about what either the mentor or the mentee is trying to achieve, for ultimately what’s most required is a shared understanding of what they’re both trying to achieve––together. 

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