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  • Writer's pictureRalph Kellogg

The Magic of Mentorship: How and Where to Find Your Match

Throughout the course of my career I have benefited from coaching, guidance and the support of strong mentors. These relationships were successful for three primary reasons: The mentor held me accountable, boundaries were set for the relationship, and goals and objectives were established and frequently reviewed to assess progress.

On the other hand, I have witnessed, and been victim to, some very unsuccessful mentoring relationships. In some cases a clash of personalities existed, or the relationship fell by the wayside for whatever reason. I have found mentoring relationships tend to fall into one of five categories:

• The Coach: This type of mentor typically offers solutions or ideas to correct issues or navigate interpersonal situations. The Coach may provide great insight, especially if she has an awareness of the parties involved. The Coach may suggest the best ways to approach someone, preferred communication styles and tips to work with someone who may have a challenging personality. The Coach can fall short if she uses a one-size-fits-all approach to problem resolution, or if assumptions are made about the situation based on her past experiences. Another peril is the Coach may not understand the depth of support the mentee needs to address an issue. For example, a Coach may provide great suggestions for addressing conflict with a coworker; however, the Coach may not role-play with the mentee, denying the employee the opportunity to gain skills and confidence necessary to address the concern.

• The Friend: Naively, one may believe that a friend will always be honest and provide sound advice, which may give rise to the thought that this person would be a great mentor. Unfortunately, friends are generally too close to the mentee or the situation to provide objective feedback. The Friend may also give advice or feedback based on selfish motivations, rather than an objective response to a problem or opportunity. For instance, the Friend may tell you not to take an assignment or promotion because it may involve longer hours or take you away from town. The Friend may also not hold you accountable for meeting objectives, or may fail to give honest feedback to preserve your feelings.

• The Advocate: The Advocate will take up the mantle and fight for the mentee. The mentor will speak on behalf of, and in some cases speak for, the mentee. In extreme cases, the Advocate will even intervene on behalf of the mentee in an effort to resolve conflicts or secure projects, work assignments or promotions. While the Advocate can act as a protector and “big brother,” the relationship detracts from the integrity of the mentor-mentee relationship. Having a champion in one’s corner is never a bad thing, but when the mentor intervenes to such a degree that the mentee is doing very little to no work to achieve objectives, a relationship that may have been based in good intentions usually devolves into dysfunction.

• The Tasmanian Devil: The Tasmanian Devil is volatile, controlling, and prone to anger and outbursts if the mentee fails to follow directions or feedback provided. I was mentored by someone who embraced this type of style. After meeting with my mentor I did not feel uplifted or encouraged, and I did not have a plan for moving forward. I felt berated and beaten up, and thought about ways in which I could cancel my next mentoring meeting, or avoid the person all together.

• The Comfort Blanket: This type of mentor commiserates with the mentee, and reinforces the belief that if something did not come to fruition, that circumstances or other people are to blame. This type of relationship is incredibly destructive because the mentor and the mentee co-create a reality where the mentee believes he is either right in all cases, or that he does not have areas in which he can, and should, mature.

A sound mentoring relationship is based on mutual respect between those involved, and for the mentoring process. Express boundaries need to be developed in mentoring relationships, and growth objectives must be defined. Mentoring relationships should not exist in perpetuity, and mentoring relationships should not be viewed as or used as a source of therapy. In its purest sense, a mentoring relationship should exist in a realm similar to that of a teacher and student.

A clear understanding of what one is seeking from a mentoring relationship must be established prior to engaging with a mentor. Workplaces often serve as breeding grounds for mentoring relationships, but I encourage people to find mentors outside their companies. In some cases, corporate mentoring programs create a “same like me” effect, where the goal becomes assimilation rather than personal or professional development.

Finding a mentor outside of one’s organization can be an unnerving experience. However, connecting with someone who possesses a different worldview or thought process can help spark a level of creativity that may have gone by the wayside in a traditional corporate mentoring program.

Mentors can have a profound effect on one’s life, and anyone seeking a mentor should conduct interviews prior to investing in this type of relationship. Weigh the following considerations as you prepare to meet with prospective mentors:

• Does the person you are seeking mentoring from want to serve in this role?

• What are you looking to learn from the mentor?

• Can the mentor hold you accountable?

• Why do you want this person for your mentor?

• What qualities does the mentor have that will help you grow personally or professionally?

• How long do you want to work with the mentor?

Similarly to how one would query a potential employer about the benefits of working for an organization, the same care must be taken when engaging with someone as a potential mentor. A strong mentor can help shape one’s work style, habits and communication practices for years to come. Consuming time and effort in finding a mentor may seem unnecessary, but failing to take this step and choosing the wrong person for the wrong reason could have long-term ramifications.

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