Obvious and Overlooked Questions When Choosing a Mentor

1. What Should I Do if I Can’t Find a Mentor? Some people may have had a mentor-perhaps even more than one-or attempted a mentoring relationship in the past but, alas, none have worked. If you can’t find a mentor, it’s possible you may not be trying hard enough. Leverage you efforts by narrowing your search.

Look for someone who’s already had a mentor. Statistics show those who’ve had mentors are generally much more enthusiastic about mentoring someone else.

2. What if the Mentor or Protégé Doesn’t Follow Through? Your first step is to meet with your partner and talk about the problem. Once you’ve met, shared your grievances, and opened up communication, the relationship may still be stagnate. It may be time to dissolve the relationship.

The best solution is to be up front. If you’re the protégé, explain that you are moving on to another area of specialization and have found someone more appropriate for you. If you’re the mentor, say that you think it’s time for the person to move on to someone with a greater level of specialization.

3. What if My Company Assigns Me a Mentor Who Doesn’t Really Help Me? A number of companies have initiated formal mentoring programs and are structured enough to have to assign mentors to lower-level individuals, but often no way to monitor whether the relationship is effective.

If you’re paired with someone who’s not a good fit, remember this-everyone has some pearls of wisdom to offer. Not everyone is going to be an amazing mentor, but all have something to contribute if you search deep enough. Learn what you can from them, and use them as an example of what you don’t want in your next mentoring relationship.

4. What is Required of a Mentor and Protégé in Time and Resources? Both parties should invest enough effort into the relationship for it to be successful. That means adding depth to it. The more involved you are, the more is required of you and the more it will pay off in the long term.

In any case, the value derived from the relationship will far exceed any costs incurred.

5. When is it Time to End the Mentor/Protégé Relationship? If it begins to sour, that’s a clear indication that the union wasn’t meant to last forever. Most often, the mentor serves as a guide to help the protégé reach a new level of accomplishment. If you’re the protégé and you no longer feel encouraged, inspired or respect your mentor’s guidance, it’s time to part ways.

As a mentor, if you’re investing a large amount of time on a protégé who’s not following through on assignments or isn’t taking action on the ideas you pass along, you’ll start to feel like you’re wasting your time.

Both relationships are voluntary. The mentor is not obligated to the protégé, and vice-versa. You are obligated, however, to be respectful of each other and to recognize each other for the time you spent together.

6. There are Very Few Women Who Want to be Mentors-What Should I Do? Women may find it somewhat difficult to locate a willing female mentor. The problem is that experienced women traditionally are more reluctant to serve as mentors than their male counterparts. Even when experienced women are available as mentors, in a corporate setting they sometimes are less willing than men to serve as mentors. Research shows that women are particularly sensitive to the overall risks of mentoring.

Meanwhile, if you’re unable to find a female mentor, don’t discriminate based on gender or forgo the benefits of a mentoring relationship. Establish a system of trust and be very clear of your expectations and boundaries as a protégé. Direct communication in a mixed-gender mentoring relationship is key given the nature of the relationship.

7. Have People Ever Insinuated the Author’s Relationship was More Than Simple Mentor and Protégé? Some people have drawn inferences from my relationship with [mentor] Floyd Wickman. Though close, we are cautious about never doing anything that would make anyone question our principles and sincerity.

It is also very important to not only behave appropriately but also to appear to behave appropriately because of the feelings on the other people in our lives, whether boyfriend or wife.

Don’t restrict the professional aspects of your professional relationship because of the unfounded suspicions a few shallow people may have, but neither ignore the potential for pain that a false accusation could cause you or loved ones.

Try to be as gender-blind as possible. We gather pearls of wisdom from as many people as we can, and teachers come in all genders, races, creeds and experience levels.

8. What is the Best Possible Outcome of Your Mentoring Relationship? Once you have been working with your mentor for awhile you begin to wonder if you’ll ever learn everything they have to teach you. Chances are, you’ll never stop learning from a mentor.

The best possible long-term outcome of a mentoring relationship is for the protégé and mentor to someday create something together that neither could alone. This symbolizes the accomplishments of both individuals and recognizes the positive outcome of their time together.

Article abridged from Mentoring by Floyd Wickman and Terry Sjodin. McGraw-Hill, 1997. All rights reserved.

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