Mentorship Is a Two-Way Street: 3 Things Both Parties Should Do to Make the Most of It

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Bessie Kokalis Pescio, Vice President, Global Internal Communications at Philip Morris International

One surprising and happy outcome from the global shift to remote work last year? The way it has provoked a new and more potent era of mentorship—one in which both mentor and mentee, and their employer, have more fully realized the value of this relationship. 

While the professional benefits of mentorship are indisputable, what we’ve found is that the less tangible benefits—namely, interpersonal connections—are what create the warmth, empathy, and purpose it takes to build an enviable company culture (even when no one is sharing the same workspace).

During the pandemic, the need for mentorship became more urgently felt. Many companies sought to alleviate employees’ isolation and facilitate connection by dusting off their mentorship programs—or introducing those programs for the first time. Employees, too, proved to be in greater need of a North Star (if not just someone to commiserate with) in 2020. 

However, identifying a mentor was no longer as simple as stopping an esteemed colleague in the hallway to ask if they might take you under their wing. With chance encounters out of the question, the mentee’s “ask” of their potential mentor had to be more deliberate. By the same token, mentors could no longer count on casual check-ins around the office to suffice when guiding their mentees. They, too, needed to take more initiative—and in many cases mentors ended up needing their mentees just as much as the mentees needed their mentors. 

Whether we’re in the middle of a crisis or not, mentorship creates the space we all need for one-on-one connection and contentment at work. For both parties to make the most out of this connection, here are some modern-day guidelines to consider: 

Tips for mentors

  • Listen to learn: Play detective and probe about to get to know who your mentee is. Where are they right now? What do they need? And why do they need it? Then, take the time to reflect on what you’ve heard before you jump into providing them with solutions.
  • Approach the relationship like a brainstorm: Together, you and your mentee are the architect and builder who will co-create your mentorship relationship. While you will need to provide your personal experience and resources to guide your mentee, always strive to make it a conversation and to build your relationship collaboratively. And just as it’s best practice to brainstorm on your own before a big brainstorm with others, take some time before you talk with your mentee to come up with ideas or topics to engage the mentee.
  • Be realistic about what you can achieve: Remember, mentorships are meant to be informal. This isn’t a professional training course, and you are not a coach. What’s required of you is to open up—to share your ideas, advice, and resources. It’s not up to you to own your mentee’s problem; their problems will always be theirs to solve. Your role is to offer perspective and practical guidance to lead them to a solution. 

Tips for mentees

  • Be clear about what you are looking for: From the outset, be direct about your “why.” What gap you are trying to fill? Why do you see your mentor as the right one to help you address that gap? What does success look like? Is it having someone on speed dial to call for advice? Is it being open to the feedback and suggestions and then taking the time and effort to put those suggestions into action? 
  • It’s not one-size-fits all: Rather than appointing one mentor with experience in a specific area, consider tapping multiple mentors who can bring you a 360-degree perspective. Imagine assembling a “board of advisors” from different walks of life who can advise you on issues both personal and professional—whether that’s related to your wellness, spirituality, community, etc. 
  • Be consistent, and seek consistency: Like any connection, the mentoring relationship can sputter out over time. If you find yourself without access to mentoring at certain parts of your career, recognize opportunities to tap mentors more consistently. At difficult moments, you may wish you had. Even when things are looking up, keep your searchlight on so that you always have an advisor—or advisors—when you need them most.  

    I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts and personal experiences on mentorship in the wake of the pandemic. What did I leave out? What do you consider to be the greatest gift of mentorship?


    About the Author: Bessie heads up PMI’s global internal communications team at Philip Morris International (PMI) based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her focus is to engage the 77,000 employees across the organization as PMI transitions its business toward better alternatives for adult smokers on the road to delivering a smoke-free future. In her 15-year career with the company, she’s worked in multiple functions including research & development, sales, commercial planning, and communications. Before joining PMI, she worked as a healthcare consultant and as a linguist. She studied French literature and political science and holds an MBA. She’s an avid runner, practices yoga regularly, and is currently reading about Renaissance art and working on her Italian.