Lindsey says. First find out about the potential mentor’s background. Perhaps you’re alumni of the same college or share similar professional skills. Even at her vice presidential level, Lindsey invited the highest ranking woman at Northern Trust for coffee and discovered they had mutual interests. During this informal meeting, Lindsey found out about a job opening she otherwise wouldn’t have known about. A mentor — mentee bond developed, with the executive supporting Lindsey’s quest for this new job opportunity in her business unit.
“You’ve got to have the right chemistry,” she continues. “There has to be something synergistic about why the two of you are together,” says Lindsey, who stresses that matches based solely on skill sets aren’t enough. “If it is not a good ‘fit,’ meetings won’t happen and it will be a waste of time on the part of both individuals.”
Also key to a real relationship is being able to talk openly and honestly about subjects like race, gender, and perception issues that may have a real effect on one’s upward mobility. Such discussions build trust, which is vital to any long-term bond. For some young African Americans entering the workplace, “there’s an expectation of being mentored and taken care of,” says Hyter. “There is a preoccupation with the organization’s responsibility and not [with] my individual responsibility in this picture. You should have a realistic expectation of what a mentor is—someone who] provides perspective but doesn’t control your thinking or thoughts, someone who is an adviser.”
Adds Thomas: “As the relationship evolves, it really is the mentee who’s the most important factor in how effective that relationship becomes. A mentee can ensure the alliance becomes stronger. Talk well of your mentor, because you’re able to influence his or her reputation.”
Making the Most of the Mentorship Experience
Don’t just settle for instructional mentoring, suggests Thomas. Instead, work on building fuller developmental relationships with mentors who help you build confidence and credibility within the workplace.
Don’t confuse mentoring and coaching with friendship, says Beasley. When selecting a mentor, he suggests choosing someone you really respect and has the respect of the company you’re in.
Assemble a broad “board of directors.” For Lindsey, advisers included not just bank professionals but African American females in senior positions at other companies, professionals with technical expertise, and her church prayer partner.
When investigating new job options, talk to current employees and look at the company’s track record in mentoring, suggests Wellington. “Critically important is choosing the right environment.”
Don’t be afraid to discuss race, ethnicity, and gender issues with your mentor, as these may significantly impact assignments, promotions, and perceptions about you within the workplace. Engaging your mentor in honest discussions can strengthen your lines of communication over the long-term.
to the mentor that you’re willing to work around your weaknesses, that you don’t want to just be acceptable but exceptional,” says Thomas.
Challenge your mentor to challenge you. If you’re stuck in a professional rut, seek your mentor’s counsel on opportunities that stretch your current talents and skills. “If you’re still hearing