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Why Mentor

TRAITS OF EXCELLENT MENTORS

Many of the qualities that make a person a good partner in a personal relationship are also found in a good mentor. He or she should be a good listener, committed to the relationship, considerate of the other person’s feelings, trustworthy, and faithful. Maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude and having a good sense of humor helps ensure friendship and respect, which are needed for the protégé’s success.

People who appear cool and emotionally detached are seldom good mentors because they are not easily approachable. Mentors with relaxed body language and an open, friendly attitude encourage their protégés to confide in them and to trust that they will be available for help whenever it is needed. By making solid eye contact and exhibiting positive and frequent reactions to the protégé’s conversation, the mentor underscores that the protégé and the protégé’s ideas are important.

Open dialogue can lead to the disclosure of information that is meant to be confidential. How much confidentiality that is shared is between the two parties in a mentorship. A mentor should never coerce information from a protégé, and is expected to protect confidentiality unless the limits of safety to people or the organization are in question (or, of course, there are legal concerns). Similarly, the mentor should not reveal confidential company information. Limits should be discussed at the outset of the mentorship so that everyone knows what they are.

In addition to exhibiting good relationship skills, a mentor must serve as a role model. It is not unusual for protégés to mimic characteristics of mentors they admire, but they must also be encouraged to make these characteristics their own. The goal of a mentor is not to create a clone, but to foster a protégé’s growth and development.

Although shared values create strong relationships, the mentorship relationship must leave room for the protégé to choose values that may differ from the mentor’s. A protégé may also develop abilities that the mentor does not have, which can be difficult for the mentor to accept. A successful mentor recognizes and celebrates these accomplishments, for a goal of mentorship is for the two individuals to become colleagues who can benefit one another.

Throughout the mentorship, an effective mentor reads the protégé well and is able to tailor the mentoring experience to that person’s emotions, personality, and drive. The mentor must not be a perfectionist nor allow the protégé to become one. Accepting limitations without expecting them creates a healthy learning environment.

Most important, a good mentor must be trustworthy. For example, a mentor should be able to keep appointments, follow through on promises, and speak honestly in every conversation with his or her protégé. Trustworthiness is exhibited when the mentor behaves with the utmost integrity in both personal and professional activities.

ARRANGING THE MENTOR-PROTÉGÉ RELATIONSHIP

Chances of success are greatly improved when a person starts off on the right foot. This is especially true when it comes to choosing a person to mentor. Chemistry is everything. Mentoring is a significant investment in both time and attention, so a mentor needs to choose someone who has a compatible personality, communication style, and personal values. The two parties should have common social skills and a similar level of ambition; it also helps if they share career interests. The more in tune to each other they feel, the more successful the mentorship is likely to be.

Race, ethnicity, and gender are other areas to consider when forming a mentorship. For example, some minority protégés prefer a mentor from their own background, while others believe a more diverse partnership is conducive to success. It is important to discuss these preferences and to ensure that both partners are comfortable with the decision. A mentor of the opposite sex is common, but care must be taken by both parties to ensure that the mentorship relationship remains entirely professional and there is no imbalance of power. Any risks should be openly discussed at the beginning of the process.

Also discussed at the start of a mentorship are expectations, measurable goals, and relationship boundaries. The result of such a conversation will serve as a game plan, which the mentor and the protégé should agree on as a team. Just as a map makes it easier to get from one place to another, an established plan with which to evaluate integral progress sets the mentoring partners on the right path. As time progresses, more goals will usually be added; some may not be easily measurable, but they should still become part of the overall plan.

While transparency is necessary throughout the process, honestly discussing the benefits and risks of the mentorship in the beginning sets the proper tone. Each partner should consider how to address issues such as jealousy or miscommunication, and how best to air concerns. The benefits to a successful mentorship–accelerated development, increased job satisfaction, improved ability and confidence, and often a faster promotion–can outweigh minor bumps in the road.

Agreement regarding the boundaries of the mentorship is vital. Because the mentor fills several roles, including advisor, friend, and supervisor, the mentorship team spends a lot of time together. This time must be agreeable to both members of the team, as should phone calls and emails from work and home and out-of-office contact. Mentorship requires a commitment and at times could interfere with the mentor’s social life; a mentor must be aware of this and should avoid allowing resentment to build and such interference to occur. The mentor also has the responsibility to keep the mentoring relationship from becoming overly personal; in such an instance the mentorship will lose its effectiveness and the situation will be likely to end poorly.

Mentoring constellations, or additional persons a protégé can turn to, help the protégé develop a network of career helpers. A good mentor helps the protégé choose others who may be able to offer professional guidance in areas the primary mentor cannot. They can also remain in a protégé’s network as the mentoring relationship changes and eventually comes to a close.

Both protégé and mentor must acknowledge from the outset that the mentoring relationship will not only change with time but reach an inevitable end. During the entire process, however, the mentor should set up a plan for regular reviews, where both parties can discuss how they think the mentorship is going and ways it might improve.

WHAT A GOOD MENTOR MUST KNOW

The popular adage, “If you want to have a good friend, you must be a good friend,” also holds true for mentoring. The mentor who sets the example of a proper work ethic, steady productivity, and self-care is most apt to develop a protégé who exhibits these traits. A good mentor accepts responsibility for the success of the relationship and the accountability for how it is proceeding.

Effective mentors realize that their protégés will be helpful in reducing the workload, and can be counted on to provide loyalty and assistance. They will also benefit from the increased excitement of working with talented newcomers and guiding protégés to success. Both mentors and protégés can enrich each other’s networks.

An active mentor should also be an active professional who is highly involved in the organization. By demonstrating command of the field and visibility among peers, the mentor mirrors the activity that is expected of the protégé. Such activity also shows the mentor to be a hard worker and innovator, which creates excitement in the mentorship.

Mentors who are proficient at their jobs, knowledgeable about their companies, and aware of what is required in their mentorship roles will produce the best and most confident protégés. They are aware that their influence over protégés comes with responsibility. They must not exploit protégés personally or professionally, and must be honest about protégés’ abilities at all times. It can be difficult to give objective feedback, especially if a mentor becomes friends with a protégé, or if it becomes clear that the protégé is in the wrong field; however, honest feedback is always in the protégé’s best interest.

Mentors should not attempt to turn their protégés into exact replicas of themselves. A successful mentor discovers what inspires the protégé and where his or her dreams and objectives lie, then shows the protégé how to accomplish as many of them as possible. Humble mentors who are comfortable talking about their own limitations and imperfections have been proven to be better models for their protégés.

WHAT IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG?

At some point in the mentorship process, either the mentor or the protégé may question its value. This is not a time for finger pointing or anger. Instead, each partner must be sure to keep emotions under control. In particular, the mentor must maintain a foundation of mutual respect while sorting out any problems. Being honest along the way and documenting every step of the mentorship will help set the tone for discussion if things go amiss.

Difficulties should be addressed immediately from both points of view. A good mentor first looks within for the cause of any discord. Is it possible that he or she has expected too much of the protégé? Has the mentor made unreasonable demands on the protégé or failed to put in the time and attention that was initially promised? Mentors often need mentors themselves, or at least other professionals to consult when they question their effectiveness in mentoring situations.

If the mentor (as opposed to the protégé) believes the mentorship is going badly, he or she should consider whether the problem is real or just a perception based on irrational thinking. Mentors invest a great deal of time and energy into the mentoring relationship, and at times their egos may get in the way. They might think that the mentoring process should be progressing more quickly, the protégés’ skills should be more advanced, or the protégés do not sufficiently appreciate the efforts being made on their behalf.

ENDING THE MENTORSHIP

The mentorship by nature is a changing relationship, and whether by design or default it must come to an end. The length of mentorships vary; some last around five years, but others are much shorter, depending on the desired results. However, both mentor and protégé must realize from the start of the process that its ending is the eventual goal–the purpose of the mentorship has been to create a protégé who is capable of moving on.

According to the authors, many mentorships end with unfinished business. Often this is because of the close bond the mentor and protégé developed in the relationship. In order for the protégé to enjoy the growth that has resulted from the relationship, the mentor must be careful not to make the protégé feel guilty for moving on.

Just as the mentor is responsible for a successful start to the mentorship, so too is he or she responsible for its rewarding conclusion. A good mentor prepares the protégé for this all-important transition and turns it into a celebration. It should be marked by an occasion, which can be as brief as a final meeting to go over the progress that was made or as celebratory as a dinner meeting or informal party. The mentor should sum up the process and discuss what has been accomplished by and for both parties. This will go smoothly if the relationship has remained open and friendly throughout. When welcoming the protégé as a colleague, the mentor may want to include a memento of some kind to mark the occasion.

True mentors live a mentoring lifestyle. They attain satisfaction from helping younger or less experienced people succeed in life. Quite often, the end of one mentorship leads to the beginning of another. However, those who enjoy mentoring should avoid becoming overextended in order to give all their protégés–and themselves-the best chance at success.

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