Mentoring Up: General Principles

This is our second installment on a mini-series on “Mentoring Up”. For a general overview on developing relationships with mentors, see part 1. Here we will take a deep dive into the specifics of taking control of your mentor relationships.

Why do I need to ‘mentor up’?

Once you’ve found a mentor, they are invested in helping you grow but it’s important to remember that you’re now part of a collaborative venture that is challenging to develop and sustain! But don’t worry, because this is where understanding the general principles behind “mentoring up” will help you and your mentors achieve your respective goals. The short of it is that as a mentee you have to take ownership of the mentor-mentee relationship by developing clear goals and actively following through and engaging with a mentor. This idea was adapted from a Gabrro and Kotter paper in Harvard Bussiness Review from 1980 called “Managing your Boss”, but it’s a helpful framework. Managing up makes it easier for mentors to help a mentee, and it makes the relationship more satisfying and more successful for both parties because the mentor can target assistance and the mentee gets what he or she needs.

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1. Prepare in Advance

  • A mentee must express his or her needs in a direct manner and take responsibility for setting and sticking to a goal schedule.
  • Clearly describe the guidance you’re seeking.
    • Is it to help you decide on a specialty? To help you navigate success on the wards?
    • Share expectations for mentoring relationship and discuss for what/who will drive the content for meetings (ie. collaborative, student-driven, or mentor driven)

2. Feedback

  • The ultimate goal is to enable you to identify and achieve academic and professional outcomes after the training period. It’s the responsibility of both mentor and mentee to identify and articulate goals and strive towards them together.
  • Is there anything you can act on? For example, let’s say you meet with a mentor to discuss how to improve your presentation. Instead of asking “do you have any feedback” be specific.
    • Ask “I’ve been working to improve the description of the impact of the results rather than just showing the data. How did I do today? Is there anything I can do to improve?”

3. Schedule

  • Make plans for future meetings/interactions
  • Discuss preferred modes of communications (i.e. text, email, phone calls, calendar invites)

4. Follow-Through

  • Set goals and expectations
  • Send an agenda and a thank you note
  • Follow up with any action items in a timely manner

The principle that links these four recommendations is creating and maintaining effective communication.


Here is a checklist that I’ve used to organize myself. Below I have an outline of other important principles that are important to consider when establishing a mentor relationship.

Getting ready

  • Clarify your values
  • Identify your work style and habits
  • Assess your own knowledge and skill gaps

Finding a mentor . . . or two

  • Meet with people you know
  • Get recommendations
  • Ask people you meet with who else they recommend
  • Be persistent
  • Find multiple mentors, both junior and senior people

Things to look for in a mentor

  • Availability and accessibility
  • Provides opportunities and encourages mentee to take risks
  • Helps mentee develop own agenda
  • Has prior mentoring experience

The first meeting

  • Tell your mentor how he or she has already helped you
  • Share your background, values, and needs
  • Send a thank you note after the meeting

Cultivating the mentor–mentee relationship

  • Agree on structure and objectives of relationship
  • Plan and set the meeting agendas
  • Ask questions
  • Actively listen
  • Follow through on assigned tasks
  • Ask for feedback
  • Manage up
  • Set goals and expectations
  • Be responsible and flexible
  • Direct the flow of information
  • Follow a regular meeting schedule with agenda


  • Talk about when the relationship should end
  • Talk with your mentor about next steps
  • Talk about future mentors

Mentor relationships are incredibly important. It helps you as a student learn about a field, develop a strong educational colleague, and builds rapport for when you need letters of recommendation down the line. Start cultivating mentor relationships today.

Check out more of our resources on finding a mentor.

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