With Apologies to David Letterman

So how can you maximize the benefits of your personal and professional relationships with one or more mentors? With thanks--and apologies--to David Letterman, below is a top-10 list of tips for a mentoring "tune-up."

10. Know your goals.

As a mentee, you need to be in the driver's seat of your mentoring relationships--not in the passenger seat while your mentor makes all the important choices about your career. To have that control, you need to do a personal inventory and know your career goals. You need to be able to articulate where you would like to go over the next period of your career and beyond. Once you've articulated your goals clearly, your mentor will be better able to advise and guide you on possible steps and opportunities.

By knowing your goals, you will be in control of the path that you choose to take--and are more likely to be satisfied with your career decisions.

9. Choose the best mentor(s) to meet your goals.

Depending on the complexity of your vision and your goals, you may need several mentors to be successful in achieving goals. It is up to you to find the best individuals to serve as mentors who will best meet your needs.

How do you know who to ask to serve as your mentor(s)? Start with a clear understanding of your goals for a given mentoring relationship. Once you know your goals, look around for experienced individuals who can help you meet some of those objectives, who are good listeners, and who are generous with their time.

A good mentor will likely welcome the opportunity to assist you in achieving your personal vision and professional goals. The opportunity to mentor you can be a great source of personal and professional satisfaction for your mentor.

8. Begin mentoring relationships by discussing mutual goals and expectations.

Perhaps you and your mentor have collaborated together before--or perhaps not. Either way, it's important to understand the framework and assumptions that each of you brings to the "mentoring table." As you identify the tools and resources you will need to move forward--be sure to encourage a discussion of each other's goals for the relationship. You and your mentor(s) should have a frank discussion of expectations: Start with a discussion of how frequently you will meet in person and communicate via phone or e-mail and set up a means of contact in case of an urgent issue. Be sure to keep this discussion two-way, with both mentee and mentor listening attentively and seeking to understand each other's unique perspective.

Addressing these issues at the beginning of a mentoring relationship helps avoid difficulties that can arise later on, when one party thinks that the other party isn't living up to his or her end of the bargain.

7. Practice the highest standards of professionalism.

Although this sounds simple, at the core of mentoring is a commitment of trust and mutual respect between the mentee and the mentor. It is essential that the mentee and the mentor mutually agree that their discussions will be kept confidential--and this commitment to a safe environment will enable a mentee to try out preliminary ideas and directions that he or she may want to explore before sharing in a wider venue. Take care to respect the boundaries of this relationship by being a true professional colleague.

6. Learn to accept and give feedback.

The good news in a mentoring relationship is that you will receive feedback and insight from a knowledgeable and caring colleague. Many times this feedback will confirm that you are on the right track and/or be congratulatory when you have achieved a successful milestone to celebrate together. But sometimes the feedback will be less than flattering. You need to be receptive to both kinds, positive and negative, and learn to accept feedback that's intended to improve your performance, your work, or your path.

The key is to learn to listen carefully to this constructive feedback, make adjustments, and then seek more feedback so that you can continue to improve yourself. Also, pay attention to how your mentors offer constructive criticism and notice how you react to it. Good feedback is an art form that takes practice to deliver and be heard.

5. Recognize that your path is your responsibility.

You've set out your goals, found the ideal mentor, launched a relationship, and even learned how to take full advantage of feedback from your mentor. But remember that you--the mentee--own the mentoring relationship. You need to bring your energy, passion, vision, and enthusiasm for the complex and challenging tasks you encounter in your field to your mentoring relationship.

4. Practice good communication.

Learning to communicate effectively is a lifelong challenge, particularly for those who have chosen the translation of ideas actions that have an impact as a career path. Mentoring relationships thrive on good communication--remember that your mentor cannot read your mind!

Take time to keep your mentor up to date on how things are going (or not going), provide feedback on how well a strategy or approach you tried worked (or failed), and try not to over interpret a comment from your mentor--who is probably just as busy as you are. Stick to the facts and make sure you keep in touch!

3. Consider a periodic mentor checkup.

Mentoring relationships can benefit from a regular evaluation. As a mentee, you should evaluate whether this relationship is still helping you. If you look forward to meeting with your mentor(s) and can't wait to share your latest results, all is going well. But even when all is going well, you might need to make a change in your mentoring team to meet your changing needs. The ability to judge when you need a new mentor is evidence of your growing maturity as a professional.

2. Avoid burning bridges if it is time to move on.

Move on with care if your mentoring checkup reveals that you need a different set of mentors to meet your needs. Assigning blame or fault to your mentor(s) is rarely a good professional strategy.

If a mentoring relationship has gone sour, perhaps because of a lack of trust, a lack of follow-up or commitment, or poor communication, don't become the victim of a "tor-mentor." Consider focusing your energy and efforts by carefully reviewing your goals, finding the best mentor(s) to meet those goals, and being clear on goals and expectations with your new mentor(s). Avoid the blame game and be the professional who places trust, mutual respect, integrity, and confidentiality as the highest standard for your mentoring relationships.

1. Enjoy the ride of mentoring relationship with a trusted colleague.

Over time, you will change from being a mentee to being a mentor yourself. Spread the wealth.

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