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How to get the most out of working with a mentor

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Cocoon CEO and mentor Farhads Niyoz - How to get the most out of working with a mentor
Cocoon CEO and mentor Farhad Niyoz

Guidance for business leaders on how to make better decisions and lead the team to win, using a leadership mentor's support.

We suggest following these guidelines to get the most out of working with a mentor. Some might feel obvious, which can be a trap because we tend to ignore the obvious - we know it but don't do it.

1. Prepare

Invest 15-20 minutes on the day before the meeting and decide what you want to get from the upcoming meeting.

You might have a particular questionnaire to answer or use your own process. If you get stuck during preparation, here's a cheat sheet:

  • What do I want? Is it good for me? What will my next level look like if I already have everything I want? (goal and its motives)

  • Do I know how to achieve it? (plan)

  • What significant decisions must I make in the next 1-4 weeks? (choices)

  • If I have clarity on what to do, do I know what is slowing or blocking me from getting it? (challenge)

  • Do I want a shorter and faster route to the target if nothing is slowing? (hacks out of comfort zone). And - what strengths do I have that I'm not entirely using? (opportunity)

  • How do I want to use this meeting? What outcome(s) would make this meeting valuable for me?

2. Face your fears

Working with a mentor brings up fears; it's inevitable. Why it is so - imagine three circles of beingness:

  • Little Self, the voice in us influenced by mental biases and short-sighted impulses like pleasure-seeking, approval-seeking, arrogance, laziness;

  • Negative Self - that part in us which we assume is unlovable and unacceptable. The Little self serves as a defence against experiencing this part.

  • True Self is the voice in us that stands above pettiness and reactiveness and feels what is best for us and the stakeholders in our life in the longer run.

Cocoon mentors use five main methods in working with people:

  • Warmth and acceptance (to strengthen self-acceptance and charge the batteries which get drained when going through challenges),

  • Serving as a sounding board to support one in finding out what one already knows;

  • Confrontation (we respectfully confront the views of the Little Self),

  • Sharing information and advice when it's appropriate;

  • Supporting building up self-accountability.

Because of the use of confrontation, it is a natural part of the process that fear, unease and various defences arise before and during the meetings. It's the Little Self trying to defend the status quo.

Some examples of how defences express themselves:

  • Empty head. No idea what to talk about with the mentor. Hint: What is the one thing I fear or am ashamed to talk about?

  • Anger. This whole process is annoying; I'm wasting my time here. Hint: What do I not want to admit about my current situation and responsibility?

  • No time. Other priorities pop up; I want to reschedule the meetings. Hint: What action do I want to postpone, unrelated to the mentor, that I know I will need to do sooner or later?

  • Misunderstanding. From the mentor's answer, you think he misunderstood you, and you feel the need to elaborate on what you meant. Hint: What do you not want to hear?

  • Boring. The meeting feels boring; nothing new comes up. Hint: What pressing topic do you want to avoid going into? What if it's in a seemingly unrelated area? E.g., if you were discussing business, how are things at home?

  • Quitting. This mentoring thing does not work; I'm quitting. Hint: What have you recently remembered from your past that you don't feel good about? It might be past hurts or wrongdoings done to you or by you.

3. Be open with the mentor

Working with the mentor is not the same as going to the hairdresser and waiting while she does the work. Mentoring session is co-created by two people with you in the leading role.

For leaders, it is common to keep many things to ourselves - doubts, insecurities, anger, also childlike joy, and amazement. Yet, here is a safe space where you can bring all of yourself.

In the session, you will work with what you will bring up. The more you can open up, the more you can gain. A closed private room without other people or digital interruptions will support you.

You will gain considerably more if you are in a private room during the mentoring session where no one can hear or disturb you.

4. Claim the learnings

Invest 10-15 times after the session to recap and claim your learnings. We usually suggest to journal about these questions:

  • What is the new perspective I gained from the meeting? What did I learn about myself and my situation?

  • Reflect on how I co-created today's experience for and by myself and how it reflects my life outside this mentoring.

  • What specific actions do I commit to take till the next meeting?

5. Apply the learnings, do the work and take responsibility

You don't commit actions for the mentor but for yourself.

You don't discuss topics to impress or get the mentor's agreement, but for yourself.

You don't have to follow the mentor's inputs directly; it's not school - you decide what's good for you and how to use it.

Understanding something and achieving something are not the same. It's like with fitness - a gym membership and a great trainer will give you nothing if you don't lift the weights.

6. Manage your expectations

As a final guideline, a few words about expectations.

When you start going to a gym after a long break or for the first time, the first few weeks or months might feel challenging.

Similar to mentoring - as you start to address topics that have been under the carpet for a long time, things might seemingly feel worse before they get better. E.g., some inner or interpersonal conflicts coming up.

It is the process of dismantling artificial harmony. The artificial harmony might feel good, but it is precisely the reason that keeps us stuck. And it is also our weakest part when facing risks - a structure on clay legs.

Main points about expectations:

  • Some things take time. You don't expect to lose weight rapidly in a sustainable manner. You should not expect to transform shortcomings or resolve challenges rapidly in a sustainable manner.

  • There's no singing with unicorns on a rainbow. Life is complex. Once you resolve one challenge, the next appears — one set of challenges for a 50 people team, another for 500.

  • Self-discovery is like peeling an onion - once you are through one level, you see the next.

  • Yet, if you do impeccable work, expect your well-being and personal power to grow!

We are on your side. We support you to realise your potential and become a leader who makes better decisions and leads your team to win.


Farhad Niyoz is the CEO of Cocoon.




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