What Should You Look for in Your Mentor?

iStock_000012303174XSmallBy Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)

We’ve all heard it before: Mentoring is crucial for business success and dramatically increases one’s own chance for success. Having a mentor can lead to valuable business contacts and contribute to conceptual and technical knowledge, but why then do so few women actually get mentored? The National Survey on Women and Work, commissioned by Marie Claire and Everywoman, found that 66 percent of the study’s 3,000 UK female respondents believe that mentoring and networking are important for furthering their career, though a whopping 72 percent had never been mentored.

Marie Royce is co-founder of GenderStrategy, a communication training program that assists workplaces with diversity training. Early on in Royce’s business career, she wasn’t lucky enough to have a mentor. She did, however, have a high-ranking female boss that told her she could accomplish anything. Just knowing that someone believed in her was a tremendous motivator. So much in fact, that when Royce noticed that women and minorities were not getting promoted as quickly as they should have, she started a mentoring program in the company to help her associates connect with those who could provide them with the tools they needed to excel.

“Mentoring didn’t happen early on in my career, so I had to make it happen for others,” Royce said. “Mentors are crucial because they can give you insight and be your biggest champion when you’re not around. It’s a person who’s always looking out for you and looking to help you. They can help position you and give you a heads up when new positions are opening up or new divisions are under development.”

Five Crucial Characteristics

According to Royce, when you’re looking for a mentor, you should keep the following five words in mind: Committed, mindful, confidential, rapport, and integrity.

A mentor who is committed is someone who believes in you and is committed to your mentoring relationship. They are someone who will follow up with you and provide action items, such as recommending a book or a class. Essentially, they’re committed to helping you succeed.

A mindful mentor is a focused mentor. Whenever you schedule time with them, they should be fully present and in the moment.

Finding a mentor who is capable of keeping things confidential is also key. When speaking to your mentor, you want to be able to be as open and honest about your work experiences as possible. Essentially, you need to be able to trust that the things you share with your mentor will remain confidential. If you can’t trust them, it’s not the right person for you.

You won’t have a connection with everyone, which is why Royce cites rapport as another important characteristic to consider. Mentoring relationship are like many other relationships in life where communication is key. If you don’t communicate well or don’t understand where the other is coming from, chances are it won’t be a successful mentoring relationship and there’s no use wasting each other’s time.

As a protégé, you have to respect the person who is mentoring you, which is why integrity is so vital. If you don’t agree with your mentor’s way of doing business or their beliefs, it’s going to be difficult to form any sort of bond. That’s not to say that you can’t learn from someone that you don’t respect, but for many, integrity is a necessity.

Keep an Open Mind

Royce is quick to point out that mentoring is crucial at all stages of your career. “In an ideal world, you’ll find yourself being a mentor and a protégé many times over the course of your career,” Royce said. “It’s important to remember that you need to keep seeking out mentors because there’s always something to learn and there’s always someone who knows more than you and is willing to teach you.”

It’s also important to keep an open mind. A mentor can be someone who is younger than you or the same age as you. If you’re a woman, your mentor can be a man, and vice versa. If you’re seeking out someone who looks like you and whose career track is similar to yours, you’re closing yourself off to a mentor who can provide diversity of thought and a whole world of experience you know nothing about.

Most importantly, it’s important to realize that a mentor can be someone who isn’t formally assigned to you, which means you can have multiple mentors at one time.

“I hear people say all the time that they’ve never had a mentor, but after speaking to them it becomes clear that they have had a mentor – they just didn’t know it,” Royce said. “It’s not always a formal arrangement, sometimes it just happens and it’s important to recognize it when it’s occurring. If someone is helping you and pushing you to be better, you need to be mindful of that and show gratitude. Good advice is a gift that’s rare in the business world and you’ll find that a little appreciation goes a long way.”