Engaging in a mentoring relationship can be a significant benefit to both new entrepreneurs and the business leaders who take the time to mentor them. Unfortunately, however, not all mentoring relationships are productive. Check for the following six signs to see if your mentor-mentee partnership is working well and benefiting both parties.
1. The relationship forms organically.
Ideally, mentoring relationships develop between two people who are familiar with the other’s work ethic, style, and attitude. Organic partnerships that develop out of mutual respect and familiarity can be highly beneficial, because they are built on a positive, comfortable foundation. However, not every new entrepreneur has the opportunity to naturally fall into a mentoring relationship with someone that he or she already knows and respects. In these instances, the partnership with someone previously unknown to the entrepreneur should, at the very least, feel natural. Healthy mentoring relationships do not feel forced or artificial, and should never exist in name only.
2. All boundaries are observed and respected.
Every healthy mentoring relationship establishes clear boundaries between the two parties at the outset. In mentoring, these boundaries are about clearly defining what both the mentor and mentee can expect to gain from the partnership. Professionals who fail to discuss expectations at the beginning of the relationship can find themselves at odds if the interactions demand too much time and energy from the mentor or leave the protégé feeling used for the mentor’s own professional gain. The best mentoring relationships begin when mentor and mentee sit down to discuss what they both hope to learn or gain from each other, where they hope to take their careers, and how they prefer to receive feedback.
3. Communication styles are cohesive.
Good communication is the key to maintaining any great relationship, whether personal or professional. Communication within a mentoring relationship is no different. Mentors and mentees who establish healthy partnerships are aware of their own preferred styles of communication. At the same time, they are capable of adjusting their own communication style to suit the needs of their counterpart when necessary. Some protégés need their mentors to give blunt, direct feedback, while others learn more from a mentor’s gentle encouragement. No matter which communication style is the best fit, mentors and mentees in a healthy relationship have an honest discussion about it early on in the process, because they understand the impact that it can have on the effectiveness of the overall process.
4. It isn’t about ego.
There is no room for egotism in a healthy mentoring relationship, from either the protégé or the mentor. This type of partnership is meant to help both parties build skill in leadership development and achieve better business success, but focusing too much on one’s own successes or skills distracts the focus from where it needs to be.
For the mentee, this means having enough humility to seriously consider the advice of a mentor, even when the advice is in opposition to their own ideas. For the mentor, this means acknowledging that just because advice is given, it doesn’t mean that the mentee will automatically accept and implement it into his or her business practices. In healthy mentoring relationships, each person understands that the other has his or her own ideas, and respects the decisions that are ultimately made. If a mentee never takes the advice of his or mentor, however, it can be a sign that there’s a lack of trust and respect, and the two should re-evaluate the relationship.
5. Both parties are equally committed.
In all great mentoring relationships, the level of commitment between mentor and mentee is balanced. Mentees show their commitment to the process when they are dedicated to being coachable and are open to constructive criticism. Considering a mentor’s ideas and applying them when appropriate shows the mentor that he or she is not uselessly devoting time to a person who has no interest in learning. Mentors show that they are committed to the process by creating time for their mentees within a busy schedule. Even if a mentor’s schedule prevents in-person meetings with a mentee, the mentor should still make him or herself available for phones calls or emails when needed. Healthy mentoring relationships are conducted between two professionals who take their responsibilities within the partnership equally seriously.
6. The arrangement benefits both people.
Though a mentoring partnership is typically sought out by a less experienced professional, they should not be the only person in the relationship who benefits from the experience. For the mentee, the partnership is about gaining valuable insight from an experienced business veteran that can be used to help the mentee’s company grow. Additionally, it provides the mentee with a support system and a person to turn to with specific questions that no one else can answer. In some instances, the mentor even introduces the mentee to a wider professional network and helps him or her make new business contacts.
In exchange, the mentor receives the opportunity to refine his or her leadership skills, learns about new areas of business and technologies within the mentee’s industry, and may even make new business connections through the mentee. For whatever reason the partnership was established, a healthy mentoring relationship is never one-sided, and neither party should ever feel as though the arrangement is burdensome or unworthy of the time investment.