Articles > Mentor match: Choose one right for you

Mentor match: Choose one right for you
Globe & Mail, November 11, 2005

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

Understand how your mentor wants to work with you: Some want to focus only on competencies, such as how to handle a difficult situation or gain more visibility. Others, like me, get into all aspects of a mentee's life. It is not uncommon after I've met with a young woman to have covered everything from whether she got rid of the "bad boy" boyfriend to whether she has spoken to her boss about getting involved in a new project.

It's important to define the nature of your relationship, and then respect the boundaries. That way, you won't expect more than your mentor is willing to give.

Show appreciation: Some years ago, I mentored a young woman who was in tough financial straits. She would sometimes bring me a single rose to thank me. Whether it's a handwritten note describing how you are benefiting from your relationship or a bottle of wine, remember your mentors has feelings, too. And always, always, be punctual.

Don't abuse the relationship: Many mentors complain that they have been burned by those they mentored, who took inappropriate advantage of the relationship and used their name without prior consent to get something.

As one woman said: "I was extremely generous with my time and contacts. I felt both angry and hurt when my [mentee] pitched himself for a project implying it had my endorsement, when we hadn't even discussed it and I wouldn't have supported it."

Recognize when the relationship is over. Relationships sometimes run their course. When either of you is ready to move on, tell your mentor how much you value the advice and support provided. Express interest in staying in touch and do so with occasional updates.

Model your mentor's generosity. Give back to others the kind of support you have received. Paying it forward is the best possible way of thanking your mentor.

Want to be a mentor? Here's some advice:

Choose your mentee thoughtfully: Pick someone you, yourself, will find interesting and believe can truly benefit from your help. If you start to mentor someone and then walk away because of ambivalence, this is very painful to the mentee, especially someone young. .

Showcase your mentee: Be generous in looking for opportunities and introductions to give him or her a leg up.

Look for opportunities for your mentee to learn by observation: Going to a meeting with a client? Take your mentee along as an observer. One of the most powerful vehicles for learning is what I call eavesdropping.

Be honest: Don't sugarcoat the truth. At the same time, be respectful of your mentees' feelings. Mentees often project deep emotional needs onto their mentors. The bond you forge may carry all kinds of extra emotional baggage for the mentee.

Use personal stories judiciously: Yes, we all learn from a compelling anecdote, but sometimes mentors lose the plot when they drown their mentee in old war stories. The skills for career management success today are different than those of the past.

Don't project your own needs onto your mentee: Your aspirations and way of solving problems may be different than the person's you are counselling. Your role is to offer advice, but your mentee is still free to disagree with your personal opinion.

Similarly, don't live through your mentee or try to compensate for disappointments with your kids by trying to mould that person into your image of success.

Be gracious: Your mentee may feel uncomfortable with the imbalance of power. Tell him or her how much you get out of the relationship, and that he or she should not feel beholden to you.

Don't expect your mentree to constantly express undying gratitude for what you are doing. You should mentor because you enjoy it and think it's the right thing to do.