Initiation of a Mentoring Relationship
- Social Cognition: You believe that the mentor believes in you.
- Relevant Experience: The mentor has been where you want to be and preferably has continued to move and progress.
- Learning & Self-Development: The mentor challenges you to achieve beyond your perceived level of ability often requiring you to learn something new or acquire new skills. The mentor facilitates your learning and expands your perspective.
- Reward: The mentor offers you something you do not have investing in you with a clear communication of how you may utilize the investment to increase productivity.
- Reciprocity: You agree with the mentor on something you have that the mentor wants and you are willing to share this contribution.
Guidelines to Realism and Reason
Your expectations of the mentor-mentee relationship and your criteria for evaluation should be both realistic and reasonable.
Create realistic criteria for determining the best mentor for you. If a supposed mentor does not fit, do not worry. Make this determination based on a considered knowledge of yourself and your needs and comfort with authority, difference, challenge, and availability.
Though they may have familiar qualities, mentors are not sibling, lover, or parent. A mentor will spend quality time with you, and often share what she thinks. But, do not mistake the relationship. Mentors are not to replace your other relationships. You must create a new kind of relationship and emotional space for the mentor to occupy.
Reasonable expectations are related to this definition of a new kind of relationship. You can reasonably expect that your mentor will make mistakes, like missing an appointment. As an isolated occurrence, this should not raise a significant red flag. If you are used to unhealthy relationships or have had trouble maintaining relationships, unreasonable expectations you have developed may create a self-fulfilling prophecy or standards that are impossible for the mentor to achieve.
Two Common Fears
Often, two fears hinder honesty and intimacy in the mentor-mentee relationship.
First, is the fear that you will let the mentor down.
Overcome this by evaluating the expectations of the mentor. What does the potential mentor expect from the relationship? What does the mentor want in return from you? How does the potential mentor view the role of mentor?
Mentor Expectations. Great mentors expect you to be yourself, and challenge you to expand your vision and productivity beyond what you perceived possible. Indeed, as Lev Vygotsky suggested in his zone of proximal development, what you can do with help should extend the bounds of what you can do by yourself.
Returns to the Mentor. Every mentor must have a conception of what she wants in return for the investment of mentoring. This exchange should be agreed upon and checked periodically. The motivation to continue mutual support rests in this agreement.
Mentor Role. The role of the mentor must include making you better, able to achieve more, quicker, and more supported than the mentor has experienced. The knowledge and experience of the mentor must mean that you forego unneeded trial and error while maintaining the lessons of process, patience, and consistency.
The second fear is that the mentor will let you down.
Often, this fear stems from previous experiences with loss or traumatic relationships. One solution is to maintain a clear sense of your goals for the relationship while continually restructuring your expectations to be realistic and reasonable.
Another solution is found in the mentor himself. Find a mentor who perceives the relationship to be a balance of contributions and withdrawals. Real relationships are rarely all contributions with no withdrawals. The best mentors maintain a balance that tips toward contributions to your success and away from withdrawals of your emotional energy. But, the best mentor will count on you to some extent securing a sense of mutual benefit/mutual loss when deadlines are not met, appointments are missed, or targets are delayed.