Finding And Keeping Mentors - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Sonia D. Coleman

Political activist and entertainer Dick Gregory once said, "One of the things I keep learning is that the secret of being happy is doing things for other people." Nowhere is this truer than in a mentoring relationship. In areas such as the medical profession, a mentoring relationship is essential to an individual's ability to succeed. Medical students are required to become residents and are guided in the medical profession by experienced physicians. This guidance is crucial in equipping the student with the required knowledge to succeed.

A mentor is a person who should inspire, encourage, support, teach, guide, advise, counsel, network, coach and tutor. The mentee is a person who should listen, be open to instruction and guidance and be willing to take the advice of another. Although both play many roles, the mentee's main role is to learn and the mentor to teach. The purpose of the mentoring relationship is to help an individual grow - personally, professionally or both. While a mentor cannot do the hard work required by the mentee, he/she can help the mentor by aiding and assisting the mentee to accomplish tasks or reach goals. Before obtaining a mentor, it is helpful to determine what one wants out of the mentoring relationship.

Some organizations offer formal mentoring programs, but many relationships are informal. Some practical methods of finding mentors are as follows:

  1. join organizations where more experienced persons are mentors;
  2. attend networking events within those organizations;
  3. develop relationships within your organization.

One has to seek out mentors, if one cannot find them in one's own work environment. Mentoring is not essential, but is can be a powerful tool. Minorities and women particularly benefit from mentors as a way to empower themselves and others. One obtains a knowledge base and contacts to which one may not have been exposed. There are several websites which provide tips for women on mentoring such as

Not everyone with years of success and/or experience is a good mentor simply because he/she is well regarded in a particular industry. Good mentors typically have similar characteristics; They are open, patient, influential, encouraging, and good listeners. Usually, they have received mentoring in the past and understand its importance. They are open to the relationship because someone taught them and they are ready to teach others.

In order for the relationship to be successful for both the mentor and mentee, regular meetings should be established. The lines of communication should remain open so that the mentor can challenge the mentee, but the mentee must be open to the challenges. The mentee will not benefit from the relationship unless advice learned from the mentor is put into practice.

There are many kinds of mentoring relationships. Some spawn from professional relationships while others are derived from personal contacts. The mentee must also develop his/her role in order to benefit from the mentoring relationship. Good mentees must be humble in order to accept advice from the mentor and thus be ready to put that advice into practice. Good mentees must be active listeners and motivated learners, and should acknowledge the mentor's advice. However, in accepting advice the mentee should not throw common sense out the window. One must weigh the advice with one's own circumstances to benefit the most from the relationship.

There are many benefits of mentoring from both the mentor and mentee's standpoints. The mentee benefits from years of practical experience and from having someone he/she can trust with challenges encountered throughout his life. The mentor benefits from seeing the mentee grow and succeed from the influence the mentor has on the mentee's life. The best relationships have common elements such as: mutual commitment to the relationship; interest in the development and success of the mentee; mutual respect of the mentee and the mentor; honesty and trust. Without these elements it is difficult to establish the strong bond that allows the mentoring relationship to flourish.

The mentee is responsible for establishing his/her own goals and the mentor is responsible for providing guidance on how to accomplish them. Some tips for the mentee are as follows:

  1. Be honest about where you currently are in your development;
  2. Determine what you want to accomplish;
  3. Be open to advice, but use common sense in following your mentor's advice;
  4. Be willing to accept challenges;
  5. Engage in active listening when meeting with your mentor;
  6. Show gratitude to your mentor for his/her support and encouragement.

Some tips for mentors:

  1. Listen to the mentee without judgment;
  2. Encourage and support the mentee to grow;
  3. Challenge the mentee on difficult issues;
  4. Provide learning opportunities for the mentee;
  5. Introduce the mentee to others who can also provide support and encouragement.

From my own experience, I think it is important to find a mentor as early in one's career as possible. This allows the mentor to participate in one's development and growth at the inception of one's career and can potentially prevent one from making some mistakes because the mentor can provide advice before the mistakes are made. Similarly, a mentor can advise the mentor on what to do after mistakes have been made.

Over the years, I have had several mentors and each one has provided the support and encouragement I needed at that particular time in my life. I think it is important to have more than one mentor in order to be exposed to diverse points of view. Recently, I needed to prepare a speech and turned to one of my mentors for inspiration. My mentor approached the speech from the perspective that it was an opportunity for my organization to get to know me better. I would not have approached the speech from that perspective had I not discussed this with my mentor. However, it worked and I met many individuals in my organization as a result of that experience.

In sum, finding and keeping a mentor can be a great way to improve one's chances of success. The mentor can share his experience, skills and knowledge and the mentee can learn how to advance quickly and gain a wealth of contacts in the process. It is not essential to one's professional or personal success, but it is well worth the time, effort and personal investment. It is a relationship from which we all can benefit in expected and unexpected ways.


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About the Author

Sonia D. Coleman is an Associate General Counsel at Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, d/b/a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. She practices in the areas of commercial litigation and commercial real estate.

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