Networking For Success

Making a mentor-mentee relationship work

Nina Smith, chief marketing officer for Sage Software, learned early in her career the importance of mentoring. When a colleague was promoted at Xerox Corp., “I went into the VP’s office and asked why I didn’t get the promotion,” recalls Smith. When the VP replied, ‘because he has potential,’ I realized I needed a mentor.”

The mentor-mentee arrangement requires nurturing. “It’s not a one-shot deal. You have to nurture it along the way,” explains Bernard Guinyard, Education Manager for the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC) in New York. Here are steps both parties can take to increase the odds of a fruitful partnership.

“No matter where you are in your career, you should always have long- and short-term goals,” says Guinyard, who runs NAMIC’s mentor program. “A mentor’s role is to serve as a trusty adviser who guides, listens, and challenges you, but it is up to you, the mentee, to follow through.”

Smith was willing to learn everything she could about the corporate environment, which persuaded John Lopiano, a former group president at Xerox, to serve as her mentor. “Many people wanted to appear to be close to the boss. Others truly were trying to learn something. They were the the ones I tended to help,” says Lopiano. Protégées must be willing to listen to a mentor’s criticism as well as advice. “You have to be open and honest, or there won’t be any real value in the relationship,” says Lopiano.

Mentors also play a role in keeping the relationship alive. “The mentor can kill a relationship if they set up a discussion and then the meeting’s cancelled,” says Lopiano. “Or the mentor spends the entire meeting looking at his wristwatch.”

For more information, read The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships by Lois J. Zachary, and contact the Uncommon Individual Foundation (www.mentoringfoundation.org), which offers training.

What to Look for in a Mentor:

  • Admirable Qualities: Look for people who have the strengths you want to develop. One of Smith’s mentees advises others to choose someone who embodies the values you aspire to have.
  • A Desire to Serve: If someone never seems to have time for you, look elsewhere.
  • Cordial Professionalism: “You have to feel good with the person, and you have to feel comfortable,” says Smith.

What to Look for in a Mentee:

  • A Good Work Ethic: “People are judged by the company they keep. That’s the same with the mentor-mentee relationship,” says Johnson.
  • A Tolerance for Criticism: If mentees are defensive, you can’t help them.
  • A Genuine Interest in the Relationship: “It won’t work if the person is just interested in getting ahead and not in growing,” says Lopiano.
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