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Mentoring: The Rules of Engagement

(posted: May 10th, 2010)

"Building your career without a mentor is like climbing Mt. Everest without a guide or a Sherpa. Sure you can attempt it, but why would you?"

In my recent blog, ''Mentoring: Your Secret Weapon'', I focused on the impact these relationships can have on your organization and on you, as you grow your leadership skills. Now I would like to share some practical tips for setting up the mentoring relationship for short and long term success.

Mentoring Models from the Classics

Yoda to Luke Skywalker. Glinda the Good Witch to Dorothy. Mr. Miyagi to the Karate Kid. Each of these relationships demonstrates the hard work it takes to be a mentor, or a mentee. The hard work is often difficult for both people involved. It takes patience and a willingness to succeed. But when this is done, it is easy to appreciate the lessons learned.

So what makes a good mentor? And what should you look for in your Sherpa or your Mr. Miyagi?

You should look for someone who:

  • Has what you personally desire
  • Cultivates' relationships
  • Is willing to take a chance on you
  • Is respected by others of strong character
  • Has a network of resources
  • Is consulted by others
  • Both talks and listens
  • Lives a consistent lifestyle
  • Is able to diagnose your needs
  • Is able to guide you through risks and around potential pitfalls
  • Is concerned with your interests
  • You personally connect with

Janet Lamkin, Financial Womens Association's 2009 Women of the Year, has learned a great deal from her mentors. She states,

"I would look carefully around my professional environment and try to find people who have the respect of others and who have skills or qualities that I need to develop or improve."

Decide What You Want

What skills would you like to develop with your mentor's assistance? Be strategic.

  • What are your goals and objectives?
  • Why would you like to be mentored?
  • What are your strengths?
  • Who should you approach?

Then have the confidence to approach the targeted mentor. Impress them with your clarity on goals, objectives, and expectations. They will be more likely to make that mentoring commitment with you.

Once you select a mentor, do the things they tell you to do and report back the results to them. They will feel empowered that you are valuing them. Be sure to regularly express that you value and appreciate their guidance. The feeling of being needed and making a difference will often be a rewarding payoff for a mentor. We all love to help others. Give value to them, and they will be glad they gave of their time and knowledge to you.

What you should bring to the relationship as a mentee?

  • Trustworthiness; the ability to keep confidences
  • Openness and honesty
  • Effective listening
  • Realistic expectations and patience
  • Flexibility
  • Accountability
  • The ability to admit mistakes and share failures

A critical key to success is consistency. You both need to commit to the relationship, follow through, and follow up. This will ensure you are spending enough time together to make it work. It is a dynamic relationship, and mentees who just listen passively don't usually get much out of the experience.

I recommend setting a goal of adding at least one real mentor to your life every year, and learning from at least one really smart person each month.

"I think there is something more important than believing: action! The world is full of dreamers, there aren't enough who will move ahead and begin to take concrete steps to actualize their vision."

W. Clement Stone

Remember

Continuous improvement is accomplished by trial and error. Success without a plan is just an accident.

I would love to hear about your plan!

Challenge Yourself
  • What has been your experience in finding a mentor?
  • What challenges have you faced?
  • If you have or have had a great mentor, what qualities made them, or the relationship, great?
  • If you are a mentor, what guidance do you have for potential mentees?

And of course, if you have determined the specific kind of mentor you want, please share it here.

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