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Picking the Right Mentor or Mentee

The third in a three-part series on mentoring

Mentoring relationships are formed in a variety of ways. Some companies have formal processes to match participants based on their interests, expertise and position in the organization. In other programs, those looking for a mentor or mentee are given a list of options and then “interview” potential candidates to find a match. Some of the most effective relationships happen naturally when colleagues find each other through work or their own networks. This is also the most common way that mentors and mentees connect, especially in the absence of an official program.

Before you set out to find a mentor, or a protégé, it’s important to know what a mentoring relationship is. First and foremost, mentoring is a development tool that grows knowledge, networks, and careers. It is also a knowledge sharing opportunity in which more experienced employees share information and ideas with other employees. Unlike coaching, it is a mutually beneficial relationship in which both parties stand to gain. Lastly, is it an organizational culture enhancer in that it can help employees better understand the organization’s operations, policies, and culture.

Now, what is mentoring not? Mentoring should not be a substitute for formal development. It should augment formal training, not replace it. Nor is mentoring a proxy for good management. A mentor, by definition, should not be or play the role of manager. While good mentoring increases the likelihood of improved performance or promotion, it is not a guarantee that the mentee will advance in the organization. Perhaps most importantly, mentoring is not an employee assistance program and the mentor should not provide counseling on personal issues.

With those parameters in mind, it is much easier to think about how to select an appropriate mentor or mentee.

Here are some qualities you’ll want to consider if you’re looking for someone to learn from:

  • Experienced. Mentors are typically more senior, but that is not a rule. It’s possible that the best mentor for you is someone junior who has experience in a certain area that you need to learn more about.
  • Trust. You should choose a mentor who you respect and admire. This doesn’t mean you have to want to be exactly like her, but you should to look up to her and believe she has your best interests in mind.
  • Accessibility. Since relationships take time to build, you want to choose someone that has room available to work with you. Mentors are often very busy people but find someone who can make some time in his schedule for you.
  • Open and Honest. Don’t pick a diplomat or someone who is going to tell you what you want to hear. The relationship will be most useful to you if your mentor is willing to give you frank feedback.

Here are some characteristics to look out for if you are in the market for a protégé:

  • Motivated. It can be frustrating — even infuriating — to give input that isn’t heeded. Look for a mentee who wants to succeed and is excited to do what it takes to get there.
  • Open to Learning. Openness to learning is a prerequisite for any mentoring relationship. A mentee will likely need to change his behavior and try new tactics under your guidance. If he thinks he already knows everything or is unwilling to change, you’re better off helping someone else.
  • Confidence. It can be a very challenging undertaking to build confidence in someone who doesn’t have it. If you are up to task, then go for it, but don’t be afraid to look for someone who is sure of themselves and needs guidance on how to channel that confidence.

Learn more about the five ways to be an effective mentor and how to get the most out of your mentor.

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