I have been in private practice for more than two decades. During that period of time, I have been involved in a number of mentoring relationships — both as a mentee and a mentor.
I have learned that “forced” mentoring relationships designed by matching names on a page or making assumption about colleagues based on who should be able to help one another seldom work.
My most successful mentoring relationships have grown organically out of similar work styles, genuinely shared interests, and a clear understanding that mentoring is a two-way street.
Women in the early stages of their career who are trying to find a mentor may be guided by three important principles that have been constants in my mentoring relationships.
1. Expect to Give More Than You Get for Starters
A common mistake that mentees make at the beginning of the mentoring process is to assume that a “good” mentor will help and guide them as soon as the mentee asks. In fact, mentors who are in the best position to impact a career are incredibly busy and do not have time to help. Therefore, the mentee’s challenge is to figure out why the mentor is so busy and then find ways to take tasks off the mentor’s plate. This helps the mentee get noticed and also creates the time needed in the mentor’s schedule for the mentoring relationship to form and grow.
2. Be Prepared for Mentoring Conversations
Once the mentor has taken an interest, the mentee needs to think about how the mentor can assist with skills development, personal advocacy and navigation of sticky situations. The mentee will benefit most if she can clearly articulate career goals, have specific ideas about next steps for which the mentor can provide feedback, and remember that the relationship will deepen and last if the conversation includes a check-in on the mentor’s plate. There may be new (and more challenging) things that the mentee can take on simply by making the inquiry.
3. Have Fun
The best mentoring relationships are formed by genuine connections and common interests. However, many women new to the mentoring process are afraid to ask the mentor to do something fun because they do not want to further burden the mentor’s schedule. But even busy mentors like to have fun and all of them eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the early stages of the relationship, the mentee should devote a few minutes to find out what the mentor likes to do in her free time. Find out if she is a foodie or a rock concert junkie or a starving artist. Once the “interests intelligence” has been gathered, suggest an outing.
Most important of all, don’t be discouraged if the mentor does not immediately have time in her schedule to do it. A mentoring relationship that is working will lead to the breakfast, lunch or a spa visit eventually.