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The mentoring game


Baby boomers are sliding into retirement, taking with them years of experience. For savvy younger workers, that trend presents a unique opportunity to seek out a mentor who sees your potential and is willing to share their wisdom. But a mentoring relationship is about give and take, an expert says.

“Not everyone understands what it means to be a mentee. Sometimes, you have this incredible opportunity that you squander because you don’t play the part properly,” says Randall Craig, president of Pinetree Advisors consulting firm and author of Personal Balance Sheet: A Practical Career Planning Guide.

“The most important thing is to appreciate the fact that your mentor has an interest in you. That creates an obligation, if you will, on your part. Follow up with your mentor on suggestions they offer; let them know how their advice helped you. If you don’t follow through on their advice, you likely won’t get more of it.”

Show appreciation. “Mentors are giving you two priceless gifts: their experience and their time,” Craig says. “They enjoy the satisfaction of seeing you grow and do appreciate being recognized for this. Let them know how you followed their advice through a quick note or voicemail. Close the loop.”

As a mentee, you’re also responsible for giving back. “Lend a hand in what’s happening in their world. Your mentor will absolutely appreciate it,” Craig says. Helping an older mentor with technology may be stereotypical, but may indeed be helpful. “You can also return the favour with information or perspective into your generation.”

Another crucial element is maintaining the implicit confidentiality within the relationship. “Your mentor may offer examples or stories, but these may be for your private perspective … As well, if you are boastful of the relationship itself, you may have to deal with jealous co-workers.”

Mentors have busy lives. Respect that. “Don’t call them while they’re on vacation because you need advice,” Craig says. “They’ll resent your constant intrusion. When they’re not available, ask yourself what they would do in that situation. The closer your mentor relationship, the better your answer will be.”

How do you find a mentor? Some companies have formal arrangements in place, but many relationships happen organically — much like a friendship. Craig suggests starting with a former manager. Pick up the phone and let the person know you’d appreciate their advice on something and ask them if they have a few minutes for you.

“If you can’t find a mentor organically and you don’t have a corporate program, consider hiring a career coach.”

Many companies recognize the value of mentoring. “The obvious benefit of mentoring is the knowledge transfer,” Craig says. “But for people to get value from the relationship, the mentor and mentee both have to play the game. It is a symbiotic relationship between two people. While corporate programs can help start the process, it is impossible to legislate relationships. It’s personal.”

He credits a mentor with helping him develop his career. “It was the turning point of my career. It taught me how to be an executive … I learned by example,” says Craig, who has also served as a mentor. “A key concept in Personal Balance Sheet is ‘give to get.’ The more you give of your experience, the more people will give back to you. That is the essence of being a mentor — and a mentee.”

Mentoring rules

You’re on your way up the corporate ladder and the executive you admire is on the top rungs. Nurture a mentoring relationship with these tips:

  • Let your mentor know how you followed their advice.
  • Give back to your mentor.
  • Maintain confidences.
  • Respect your mentor’s time.