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What does a good mentoring relationship require?

Ah, mentoring!!! Named for a classical character, offered as the career boost for anyone. Alas, reality is a bit more mixed.

Mentoring can be a business-enhancing and life-enriching relationship for both mentor and protégé, but there are conditions. Here's what you need for a mentoring relationship to work.

You need a protégé who is willing to listen and use the advice that he or she gets from the mentor. The protégé should also be willing to devote time and effort to the relationship. Many young people, especially very smart ones, are not ready for this and mentoring will not work for them until they are.

You need a mentor who enjoys the role and works at it. Mentoring programs often match up potential protégés with senior people who are assigned the role.

You need a mentor who knows the right stuff and has the ability to share it. The right stuff at one stage of a career might be technical, while at another it might be political. You're not limited to one mentor, so over a career there may be several who provide different help and learning and support.

Finally, but maybe most importantly, you need chemistry. You can have everything I've mentioned, but if there isn't chemistry there probably won't be a productive mentoring relationship.

Now, what are the benefits? For the protégé, they're usually pretty obvious. The protégé gets advice on work and company/industry politics. The protégé may get a senior exec who supports the protégé's ideas and programs and represents them in senior councils.

And the mentor? The mentor can get a lot of satisfaction from mentoring relationships. I surely have.

But there can also be more tangible benefits. Protégés are often fresh from school and have recently spent time on the latest technical or management issues. Protégés are usually younger and have the forward-only perspective of youth as well as fresh eyes for problems and situations.

Mentoring in some cases turns into a lifelong, high quality relationship. But even shorter, less permanent relationships can have great benefits for both parties.


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