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A framework for mentorship (plus mentorship question bank)

In my decade thus far spent working as a Product Manager, I've had the immense privilege of working with incredibly dedicated and attentive mentors. Having the right person coaching you can make all the difference in how quickly you learn. For example, the mentors I had while at Lyft taught me frameworks and coached me through experiences that grew me faster during those 3 years than in my entire preceding career.

In this post I'll explore what I think makes mentorship relationships strongest, and how to set yourself up for success with your next mentor or mentee. Note that I use "mentor" and "coach" interchangeably as I think great mentors relate to their mentees in the same way that I've heard people typically describe a coach.

The mentor

  1. Is consistent and available. Doesn't reschedule or cancel meetings with you, can commit to relatively frequent meetings (ie: biweekly or monthly)

  2. Remembers what it was like to be where you are currently at in your career. For example, if you're a junior independent contributor, a senior counterpart would be able to empathize more with what you need to get to the next level than a VP of Product who's been abstracted far away from day to day operations for over a decade. However, the latter would be a great mentor to a senior people manager struggling with org design challenges

  3. Doesn't give you the answers to the challenges you're facing. At most talks through how they would think about solving it if they were in your shoes, at best asks you the right questions and suggests the right framing to help you come up with solutions yourself

  4. Is willing to acknowledge when they don't have a good way of thinking about a particular challenge their mentee brought to the conversation, and is able to point their mentee to someone else who can better support on that specific challenge

  5. References their mentee to reading materials to expand their knowledge about areas that could help them grow faster (and writes those materials where they don't already exist)

  6. Is willing to be vulnerable, for example share struggles or failures from their career

  7. Provide a psychologically safe space by ensuring their mentee that everything that they'll discuss will be confidential

The mentee

  1. Drives the relationship and conversation. Sets up and maintains an evergreen 1:1 doc for their mentorship meetings (template), recurring calendar invite, fills it the shared doc with an agenda before every meeting and sends a pre-read ahead of time, takes notes, etc.

  2. Makes sure to understand how their mentor best communicates (eg: email vs Slack; calls versus in-person meetings)

  3. Doesn't expect their mentor to give them all the answers, but rather teach them how to think in novel ways so they can solve their challenges themselves

  4. Isn't afraid to be vulnerable with their mentor

  5. Keeps their mentor informed of their work progress and achievements so they have as much context as possible

  6. Provides their mentor with feedback on how they could be better supported as a mentee

  7. Be thankful. Visibly, proactively, and often

  8. Offer to help your mentor out with anything that they're facing. There will often be many ways in which you can do this, and they'll at the very least appreciate you for offering!



Building a mentorship relationship

  1. Hopefully your company already has formal programs set up to get paired with mentors. If so, sign up and be clear about what you're looking for in a mentor or mentee

  2. If your company doesn't already have a mentorship program, start one!

  3. If you for whatever reason don't think you'll be able to find a mentor or mentee that is a great mutual fit within your company, use a platform like LinkedIn to connect with someone in your same career path to ask for mentorship. Though keep in mind that mentors from within your company will have more context on your work and may be able to provide more helpful feedback

  4. Once you have a mentorship relationship set up, follow the recommendations from the above sections to set up a regular correspondence with doc for agenda and notes

  5. Be clear about expectations upfront for what sort of mentorship relationship you're looking for. Do you want coaching on a specific skill for a couple weeks? Longer-term mentorship over the course of many months? One or two one-off meetings for some specific advice? Make sure both of you are comfortable with whichever one it is

  6. Take some time early on to get to know each other! I think this is best done through spending time talking about each other's backgrounds and interests, but you can also bootstrap this by sharing context on each other before you meet. For example, before most 1:1s I sent this user manual that I wrote as an introduction to who I am and what my values are

  7. As a mentee, prep questions ahead of time! I started this mentorship question bank as a start, but you'll think of more 🙂

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