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Mentorship: lessons learned

These are the best 10 lessons I’ve learned about mentorship.

1. Be intentional.

No relationship blossoms without cultivation and nurturing. A mentoring relationship needs to be a commitment both parties are willing to make.

2. Either party can initiate the relationship.

Mentors can propose the relationship, or protégés can propose the relationship. Organizations might also pair you. Pairings are often more compatible, however, if the mentor and protégé have some input in the selection process.

3. A protégé should DRIVE the relationship. A mentor should apply the BRAKES.

In other words, protégés should be allowed to dream; mentors should help shape these dreams into realistic and manageable steps without crushing the dream.

Also, protégés should take the lead on setting parameters for the relationship. Mentors are a wealth of information. But they will only share/serve in doses they think protégés want and can handle. Mentors aren’t going to chase you down, sit on you, and insist that you learn their pearls of wisdom.

4. A protégé should be coachable.

Being coachable is one of the best qualities a young person can have. If you show an eagerness to learn and are receptive to the wisdom of others, lessons will be showered on you, giving you an incredible edge over your peers.

Mentees who already appear to know it all, or who have chips on their shoulders, by contrast, are not showered with others’ wisdom. And if they were, they might not recognize it.

5. A mentor should have no personal agenda.

In situations of succession planning or management training, a mentor might have a noble agenda. But if a mentor has a personal agenda that leaves a more impressionable protégé feeling used in any way after the experience is over, that is not a healthy relationship.

To the moon and back: lessons learned from a lifetime of great mentors
(Punit Renjen, Global CEO, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited)

Some older persons in positions of power can prey off younger or less experienced people. Mentoring is about giving back--about concentrating on what’s really best for a protégé. Mentors do typically reap benefits, but I feel strongly that mentoring should be selfless, and not for purposes of personal gain for the mentor.

6. Protégés should recognize and appreciate the selflessness of--and risk to--the mentor.

If someone enters into a formal mentoring relationship with you, they are attaching their name to yours--their reputation to yours. Never misuse that trust. Seek to be deserving of it.

You don't have to be perfect. Part of being young is learning, it’s hard to learn without making some mistakes. But be ethical and honest.

7. A protégé must make goals for the relationship clear.

A mentor doesn’t know how to help if the goals for the relationship aren’t clear.

8. Goals should be kept simple.

Start with 1-2 things you want to work on. When that’s accomplished, tackle 1-2 more.

9. Consider constellation mentoring.

A protégé can have more than one mentor. A mentor can have more than one protégé. But remember that meaningful relationships take time and energy, so don’t overtax your schedule. You might approach one mentor and ask to be mentored for 6 months with the goal of building your network. You might approach another for those same 6 months with the goal of improving your writing ability.

Each mentor has a unique set of strengths and skills. Regi Campbell, author of Mentor Like Jesus, selects 8 young men to mentor in a group setting each year. He started this model (based on Tim Elmore's mentorship practices) to increase his efficiency. It is not a model that would work for everyone, but it’s a thought-provoking and purposeful way to mentor.

10. Mentoring relationships need an expiration date.

If you initiate a formal mentoring relationship and don’t put an end date on it, it can fizzle over time and leave both parties wondering what happened.

By the nature of a mentoring relationship, protégés mature. They should, anyway. And when they do, the relationship changes. Over time, protégés become colleagues. If a mentor and protégé decide together at the start of the relationship (and again at regular intervals…each 6-12 months), whether to continue, this gives them a chance to re-evaluate the relationship and its purpose/goals.

This is certainly not everything there is to know about mentoring, just ten lessons learned. One final encouragement: if you ever benefitted from having a mentor, be one yourself.  And if you didn’t, become one for the next generation. Create a culture of mentoring for the health of your organization and industry.


If you do, you’ll be blessed.

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