Recently I had the pleasure of delivering a mentor - protégé training program. Pairs of mentors and protégés met each other for the first time and learned a bit about each other, then prepared to embark upon their six-month journey of personal and professional growth.
I shared with the group the importance of mentoring and how it truly benefits both individuals who participate in this process. Some of the mentors were surprised to hear that they might learn as much - if not more - from their protégés as those individuals will learn from them.
This reaction reinforced a common misperception about the role of mentors. We're often perceived as sages, gurus, and presenters of wisdom far beyond our years. In truth, we are simply people with smarts and experience who own a deep-rooted desire to help others become much more successful than ourselves. With that said, if you are considering becoming a mentor, know that, in order for you to best serve your protégé, you will be concurrently mentoring yourself.
My recent presentation kicked off with a series of communication, personality, and work style assessments designed to let each partner know how the other "ticks." As my friend and local author, Ray Russell, says, "There's no 'right', 'wrong', 'good', or 'bad'. Just different." I've been borrowing that line for years because it's quite brilliant. How many times have we judged someone as "bad" or "weird" when, in reality, their style was simply different than our own?
Understanding that your protégé may have a markedly different style than yours dictates one paramount behavior: Adapt your style to theirs - at least at the beginning of the relationship. Then, guide your protégé to an understanding of your style and communication preferences and help them work more effectively with you. The mentor is consistently at the helm, but continually learns from the protégé. That's what makes these relationships so fulfilling.
There are also common misperceptions about the role of protégé. Often, they are perceived as individuals with less experience, knowledge, skill, and polish as the mentor when, in fact, every protégé possesses valuable and worthwhile life experience. As a protégé, you owe it your mentor to make a list of the attributes and benefits you bring to the table. This strategy prevents the mentor-protégé relationship from being one-sided and pedantic.
Unless you're seeking a Master Po - Grasshopper connection (á la "Kung Fu", if you're too young to remember 1972 television), think "collaboration" as the foundation of your work together.
Some tips for maximizing a mentor-protégé partnership:
If you are forming a mentor-protégé relationship, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have. Be kind, understanding, and genuinely interested in each other's success.