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The Decision to Mentor

Research shows that mentors have much to gain from a mentoring relationship. The opportunity to share their expertise is an important motivator for mentors. Demonstrating the ability to identify and develop new talent can enhance a mentor's own career. Mentors are often motivated by a perceived need they note in a mentee, or they remember being mentored themselves and want to do the same for someone else. Mentoring younger professionals provides the opportunity to acquire a fresh perspective on professional issues or personal issues such as work/life balance. Many find being a mentor to be a rewarding activity that contributes to the organization and the profession.

Mentors should be careful to understand what they have to offer. One of the best guides to thinking about what a mentor can bring to the relationship is Larry Ambrose's A Mentor's Companion (Chicago: Perrone-Ambrose, 1996). This book provides an excellent list of questions (in checklist form) about what a mentor can contribute for those thinking about entering a mentoring relationship.

Just it is important for mentees to determine the type of mentoring that will help them to address career goals, there are different approaches to mentoring that can be used individually or combined to meet mentee-mentor interests in pursuing one-to-one or group-based experiences, the demands of time, and individual and organizational outcomes.

Skills for Mentors

A mentor's skill in building a trusted and productive relationship is a critical part of mentoring. A quick and easy to read resource in this area is Gordon F. Shea's Mentoring: How to Develop Successful Mentor Behaviors, 3rd Edition (Boston: Course Technology, 2002).

A critical aspect of the mentoring relationship is building trust with the mentee. For the mentor's help to be of benefit, the mentee must be willing to be forthcoming about all of his or her needs. Mentees must feel safe in order to reveal their vulnerability, to open themselves up to new learning. The role of mentors is to help mentees feel comfortable. Trust is the basis of a mentoring collaboration-a base on which all other aspects of the relationship is built. One of the best resources on building trust within a mentoring relationship is included on pages 142? – 152 of Ensher and Murphy's Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Protégés Get the Most Out of Their Relationships. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

Values are another important aspect of the mentoring relationship. One of the best ways mentors can assist mentoring partners is to help them identify and establish their personal values. Engaging in values exercises and discussions is an important way of establishing the mentor/mentee relationship and learning about each other. Arizona State University Career Services provides an interesting site with many resources, as does the Sauder School of Business at The University of British Columbia.

One of the major roles of mentors is to help the mentee learn through developmental assignments. These assignments provide the mentor an opportunity to learn, but with a strong likelihood of success. Chapter 6 of Larry Ambrose's A Mentor's Companion (Chicago: Perrone-Ambrose, 1996) includes a great outline of what to think about when giving an assignment to a mentee.

Download this informal agreement form to guide the “Negotiation Phase” of your mentor/mentee relationship.


If you haven't already, listen to the Mentoring as a Professional Development Tool podcast to learn about effective mentoring and the ways it can boost your career, whether you are a mentor or a mentee.

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