Mentor, Mentee Relationship - How does it work?

The first time I was asked to be a mentor, a wave of honor and panic washed over me. Someone wanted my input on their career path and success; I was humbled they would ask me. Then, the anxiety of, what does a good mentor do, set in.

Over the course of my career, there were a number of people I would say served as mentors to me, and all had very different styles and approaches; some more effective than others. As the mentee, I owned what I got out of it, and sadly I did not leverage those opportunities to the max because I wasn’t sure what was too much to ask of a mentor.

Recently, I was at the Digital CPA Conference and the speakers shared excellent information that helps the mentor and mentee have better expectations and have a fruitful relationship:

You are not there to answer questions; you are there to ask them.

  • Now who is that statement geared to? If you said mentee, that is true, but I’m also speaking to the mentor. A mentee should come with questions, but a quality mentor should ask the mentee challenging questions back. No one knows you better than you. No one knows the full details of a situation better than you! So no one better than you, mentee, to develop the solution. This does not take the mentor off the hook! You have to be engaged; ask the questions you know the mentee has to address. What would you have wanted someone to make you look at to make a better decision? Your inclination will be to share, “This is what I would do…” Though that is comforting to hear, is it what your mentee should do?

It will get uncomfortable

  • John Engels said, “Why do you want to keep others from discomfort? It is what helps us grow and develop, and helped us get where we are.” How true is that!? We have to learn to think through and deal with challenging situations. The mentor should coach the mentee on the questions to ask themselves, therefore, training how to analyze and think through similar situations in the future. Mentee, your mentor is NOT there to give instant gratification of an immediate answer. We are in a world of on demand, but some things just take time. Simon Sinek (spoke at 2013 DCPA) recently recorded a video discussing millennials in the workplace and called out there is no app for building skills, relationships and trust (highly recommend watching this video). Be patient, mentor and mentee, depending on the situation, it may take you both a little while to find the answer.


  • Mentors can be of all ages, social standings, and professions. Don’t create a stereotype in your mind, but look for a diverse mix of mentors. This has been something I was quite blessed to have and look back with appreciation.

As we venture into 2017, set a goal to establish mentoring relationships, be it formal and informal ones. If you need help finding a mentor or mentee, AICPA is piloting a program; check out the process – all are welcome. A good mentor is a coach, not an advisor. Be the best coach and be an attentive student.

What was the best attribute of one of your mentors?

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