What Goes Into a Successful Mentor Relationship?

One mentor/mentee pair share their perspective about the tactics to forge a rewarding mentor relationship.

The mentoring relationship can be somewhat of a mixed bag—sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

When it works, though, mentoring has the power to change lives, at least according to one recent study. So, what does it take to create a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

Part of the formula may rest in happenstance and luck—personalities and schedules don’t always click—but there are several steps mentors and mentees can take to ensure a win-win relationship.

One tactic that worked for Juan Amador, CAE, director of diversity policy and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, was to seek out a mentor who he thought could help advance his particular career needs, which happened to be improving his communication and presentation skills.

“I needed some help with visibility, with communication, with being more confident about talking about myself and expressing myself and my points of views,” he said. “It’s not that I couldn’t do that, but once you get to a certain level, there’s an art to it.”

So, when it came time for the mentor selection process that’s part of ASAE’s Diversity Executive Leadership Program, of which Amador is a participant, he requested Susan Neely, ASAE board chair and president and CEO of the American Beverage Association. Instead of waiting to be paired with someone, Amador took the initiative and asked for someone he knew had the communications expertise he could learn from.

“I took a risk,” Amador said. “I put myself out there because I knew she would either say yes or no. Luckily, she said yes.”

Amador’s proactive approach didn’t stop there. Once matched with Neely, he initiated meetings, introduced himself to and got to know her support staff, provided her with email updates, and made sure he could provide value to Neely as well.

“I asked her what she wanted to learn from me,” said Amador, who was happy to provide Neely with an insider’s view of DELP and the ASAE member experience.

It’s important for mentees to think strategically about their mentor relationships, Neely said. “Know the background of the mentor. Ask questions that relate to the mentor’s experiences. Even if those experiences are not completely related to your ambitions, there may be insights you can glean. Have a mental agenda of questions you want to ask or things you want to tell the mentor when you meet. Keep the mentor posted on your successes and progress.”

All this isn’t to say that the responsibility for the relationship lies in the hands of the mentee. Amador credits Neely’s generosity and receptiveness for a large part of their relationship’s success.

“She invited me to ASAE functions and to networking and social events and to her home,” he said. “I got to experience things with her, and then we’d talk about them. Just being at these events with someone who is very senior and very visible in the association community, certainly among her membership, I could observe the way she talked with members, the way she presented herself.”

From her perspective, Neely also advised that mentors get to know the hopes and dreams of their mentees.  “Not just the professional ones but personal as well,” she said. “It’s not possible to separate one from the other. I look at my own life in its entirety because what I do career-wise affects my family life and vice versa. With my mentees, we talk about it all.”

Neely said she also makes a point to explain to mentees that all she can share is her perspective. “Only they can make the decisions that are right for them.”

Do you have advice on what it takes to create a successful mentor relationship? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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