One of my favorite relationships to observe and learn about is the one between the mentor and mentored. Full disclosure, I have been lucky enough to have a wonderful mentor and heavily focused on mentorships during Graduate School. This could be why every time I read or hear about a successful, or unsuccessful, mentor relationship I have so many questions. What made them match? Who is benefiting the most from the relationship? How long did/will the relationship last? How did you even find a mentor? Was it organized through your employer or on your own? I deeply believe in the power of a good mentor. I also deeply believe in how powerful being a mentor can be. While not everyone will have the opportunity to have this professional relationship, those that do can focus on the following five questions.
1. Who is benefitting? If only one person in the relationship is benefitting, it is not bound to be successful for a long time. That does not mean good won’t come of it, but it will likely run its course and that may happen before both parties are ready. If looking for a long-term mentor, it is best to make sure both are learning from one another and subscribe to the idea that teachers can learn from students just as much as students can learn from teachers.
2. Why do you have a mentor? Are you using a mentor because you aren’t confident in your job and are looking for the easy answers? Are you confusing a mentor relationship with a friendship? Or are you looking for someone to truly offer you guidance and advice as you progress professionally? Make sure that you are truly ready to commit to the relationship before asking someone to mentor you.
3. Who chose your mentor? If you are looking for a mentor, check with your company to see if they have a program in place. Several corporations have them as a requirement for upper level management. If your company does not, then think about who truly models what and where you want to be.
4. Did you discuss the relationship? The most important thing to discuss is whether or not they want to be in the relationship. You cannot have a relationship if only one party knows or wants to be in it. A successful relationship takes time, commitment, trust, and patience from both parties. Setting up regular times to speak, personal boundaries, and goals is a great first step.
5. A mentor doesn’t have to look like you. This is my favorite! I have had two male mentors and they were incredibly successful relationships. Since the ideal mentor is steps ahead in their career and therefore can give you advice on how to get there, it makes sense that they would be as similar to you as possible (gender, race, etc.) but there is a benefit in being led by someone that is different. They can give you a perspective that you would truly never have, as you do not walk in similar shoes. They might suggest approaches different from your own and offer input from a new angle. As companies are diversifying, so can mentorships.