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After “Hello,” 7 Words To Guide Mentors and Mentees

These days, I seem to find myself in the role of mentor often, in very different situations. In the last week, I’ve mentored a nurse, an aspiring IBCLC, a new radio show host, and a new small business owner. Different people, different backgrounds, different interests, right? yet, my interactions with them were more similar than different.  As a mentor, what do you say, do, or ask—after saying “Hello”? Each time, I find myself returning to 7 key words or phrases.

Mutual benefit

Everyone knows that the mentee is supposed to get something out of the relationship. But ideally, the mentorship relationship should be mutually beneficial. It shouldn’t be that the mentor is all “give” and the mentee all “receive.” Why?

I know many people who would be great mentors, but say they won’t do it. “By the time I could teach her how to do it,” they say, “I could have done it myself!” Undoubtedly, that’s true! But in this one-way street mentality, the mentor sees herself as giving without getting. Without a goal to get something out of the experience, the mentor may soon burn out.


The importance of a goal cannot be overestimated—for both mentor and mentee. Without a goal, we are like a ship without a rudder.

I find that most mentees have a difficult time articulating goals initially, but it’s critical for their long-term progress. Sometimes, the mentors can’t help them much, because they can’t articulate their own goals!

As the mentor, you need to think about what you want to get out of this experience. If money is your only goal, maybe you should re-think the agreement. Sure, people are willing to pay you for your time and expertise, but there is no fee that will adequately compensate you for your investment of time and mental energy if there isn’t some other goal, too.

(Spoiler alert: As a mentor, my goal is to get at least a few blogs out of the experience!)


If you are a lactation consultant mentoring in private practice, you’ll need to devise a mechanism to ensure your mentee maintains client confidentiality. If you’re in a different setting—a hospital or clinic, for example—the mentee will likely be held to the organizational standards. But it helps you to keep this in mind.

You’ll also need to think about your responsibility to confidentiality on your mentee’s behalf. What if she says or does something unlawful or unethical? Do you report her? I’m not a lawyer or an ethicist, but unless the transgression is truly egregious, in many or most cases, I don’t think so. As an unlicensed and uncredentialed learner, she is unlikely to be aware of what she said or did wrong. She needs prompt and accurate feedback from her mentor—and tips on how to improve.


Look, the mentee is excited and eager to learn. But at this point of her career, she isn’t performing at an optimal level. She must be able to trust that the mentor has her best interests at heart.

And, the mentor must trust the mentee to fly solo at some point, or to ask for help when she is in over her head. Each must espouse constructive, rather than destructive, criticism. Honesty and trust are paramount to progress.


How will the mentor or the mentee know when progress has been achieved? Unfortunately, many mentors—and mentees—don’t think about this until the mentorship agreement is coming to a close. This conversation must start sooner.

Will there be some observation that occurs? Is there a less-direct method? How can both gain insights into learning styles, learning needs, and accomplishing the goals of the mentoring relationship?

Be a mentor – but be you!

You’ve surely heard someone say, “I’d like to grow up to be just like So-And-So.” Admiration and role-modeling are good. But in a mentoring relationship, both need to guard against the mentee becoming a clone of the mentor. The mentee has her own positive traits to bring to the table—and we’ll all benefit from that.

I strive to help mentees learn from my worst mistakes, and profit from my expertise. I even tell them that other people disagree with my stance on certain things!


Mutually-beneficial mentoring relationships continue and grow. A good mentorship can be life-enriching relationship, and a resource that you can continue to tap throughout your career. I had such an outstanding mentor more than 35 years ago, and although the miles have separated us, her influence lives on within me each day.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve gotten from a mentor?

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