(By Mercedes Cardona)
“A mentor should motivate and inspire, urging you to stretch and giving you constructive criticism in return, said Abbajay. “You want someone to challenge you, but she has to be able to be empathetic and not judgmental. A good mentor not only cares about the career of the person, but also the person in the person.”
Mentoring is one of the most popular topics in the LinkedIn group Connect: Professional Women’sNetwork, powered by Citi. According to group discussions, many professionals engage a mentor to give their careers a boost. But how do you know whether the relationship is working, and whether you’re getting enough out of it to continue?
To make sure the relationship succeeds, you both have to evaluate it regularly for signs that goals are being met, experts say. “It’s a structured relationship that takes work,” said Mary Abbajay, principal and co-founder of Careerstone Group, a leadership development firm in Washington, D.C.
Abbajay recently authored a report that explores what makes a good mentor and a good protégé and the effectiveness of the relationship. Among her suggestions: Both mentor and protégé need to set up milestones and schedule regular meetings—either in person or on the phone—to make sure the mentoring process is moving along and achieving something. “If you’re not doing regular check-ins, that’s a problem,” Abbajay said.
Of course, the main guideline for a successful mentor is whether the protégée grows and moves up in her field. But experts say while the relationship is evolving, you’ll need to regularly assess whether the relationship is on the right track. Here are three questions to ask yourself:
Do you have the right chemistry?
What’s true in any interpersonal relationship is true in mentoring: You need to like the other person, said EllenEnsher, professor of management at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Before starting a mentor relationship, both of you should calibrate your expectations of what you hope to get out of it, said Ensher, co-author of Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Protégés Get the Most Out of Their Relationship.
“If you leave your meetings with your mentoring partner energized… it’s working,” she said. “On the other hand, if it’s a drain and you feel like it’s a vampire that’s draining you, it’s not working.”
A mentor should motivate and inspire, urging you to stretch and giving you constructive criticism in return, said Abbajay. “You want someone to challenge you, but she has to be able to be empathetic and not judgmental. A good mentor not only cares about the career of the person, but also the person in the person.”
Are appointments honored?
Maybe the most obvious sign of a working relationship is that both mentor and protégée show up. The “drop-out syndrome” is the biggest marker of non-productivity, said Ensher.
Sure, we are all busy people, but if either mentor or protégée can’t keep up with the regular check-ins, that’s a red flag, she said.
“If your protégée or your mentor consistently shows up late or cancels meetings, that’s a bad sign,” said Abbajay. “If that’s a consistent pattern, that’s a problem.”
Are you doing your homework?
Mentoring involves work, for both the mentor and the protégée. If both show up for meetings prepared with concerns to discuss, resources to tap and recommendations to follow, that’s a good sign. But even one or both of you are just phoning it in, that’s a red flag. “If the protégée isn’t really willing to do anything different… that’s a sign that she either doesn’t trust you or is not willing to change,” said Abbajay.
And the mentor, too, needs to do homework ahead of each meeting, said Ensher: “An initial test of a relationship is the mentor saying: ‘Here’s a book to read, here’s a person to meet, or an assignment,’” said Ensher.
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