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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

Mentoring—Managing Your Relationship

The older I grow, the more I listen to people who don't say much.

You are the protegé. Your mentor has kindly given of his or her time to help you. But statistics show that most formal mentoring relationships are not successful — as many as a third end in the protegés leaving the company. Be one of the successes. Here's how:

  1. Get the relationship off to a good start. Get involved in selecting the right mentor. Don't be passive and accept anyone "given" to you.

  2. Be assertive if you feel there is a mismatch. It's better to pull the plug on the relationship at the outset instead of struggling to maintain a relationship that has little value to either party.

  3. At your first meeting, come prepared with clear objectives and an agenda. Key things to discuss are:

    • Your needs. Are you looking for help with your career? Developing political savvy? Improving your knowledge about the industry? Make sure that your mentor is the best person to help you.

    • Your expectations of the mentor. Do you expect that person to be a fountain of knowledge, a friend, a sounding board, an advocate, an observer, or some combination of these?

    • The frequency and length of meetings. Will the meetings be one on one, by phone, during or after work hours?

    • Boundaries. Set up guidelines that will make clear the things that are inside or outside the relationship. Issues of confidentiality are important. Also, will you confine yourself to business issues, or can you cover issues outside work? And what about honesty? How frank will you be with each other if either party does or says something that the other considers offensive?

    • Length of the relationship. Most relationships last about a year. What are the expectations of each of you?

  4. The ongoing relationship will be effective if you

    • meet your commitments;

    • respect the time constraints of the mentor;

    • confine yourself mostly to the issues with which the mentor is best placed to help you;

    • do not betray confidences of other people to the mentor;

    • show your appreciation to the mentor, particularly if she or he has gone out on a limb for you in some way;

    • give polite but assertive feedback if you feel the mentor has betrayed your confidence in any way.

  5. If the relationship is failing to add value and both of you are struggling to find things to discuss, it may be time to call a halt to the meetings. If so:

    • Be frank with the mentor. He or she will probably be grateful.

    • Show your appreciation. A small gift or a lunch is appropriate.

    • If you have been part of a formal mentoring program, send a note to the program coordinator stating your appreciation.

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