Each mentoring relationship has its own unique qualities, dynamics and arcs. They can last weeks or years and form around a single focus or a series of evolving questions. That said, whether people choose mentors or they are chosen for them, good mentoring relationships share several characteristics. Strengths are obvious Mentor and mentored know from the start what strengths each brings to the table. These include specific areas of skill, mastery, knowledge, experience, personal qualities and connections. The relationship works when these are known, continuously discovered and leveraged to benefit the mentored.
Communication is clear Both mentor and mentored clearly communicate what matters to them in each interaction. It's important that the mentor knows exactly what the mentored's current questions are. These are what they are working on researching and deciding. If either wants something more than is happening in the relationship, these are stated clearly and immediately.
Learning how to think In the best mentoring relationships, the mentored learns not as much what to think about their questions, but more how to think about their questions. The mentor uses questions, stories and introductions to other resources as prime tools to facilitate this development. The most valuable contribution the mentor makes is when the mentored feels more self-empowered to successfully think through important questions in their future.
Measuring success The best way to begin the relationship is for mentor and mentored to articulate how they would each define success as a result of the collaboration. The more specific the terms and related timeframes the better. Any changes need to be communicated as they shift. Monitoring progress needs to be continuous on a cadence that makes sense to both. The mentor is only as effective as the real time report of progress and changes the mentored reports.
Shared responsibility The mentoring relationship is a collaboration, the opposite of a hierarchy. A collaboration is a partnership based on mutual interest for mutual gain. No one is in charge; responsibility for everything is shared. Both initiate interactions and conversations. Both make sure communication is clear, strengths are engaged, lessons are shared and successes are celebrated. Both sustain mutual care and concern for each other.
Depending on the chemistry and evolving character of the relationship, a mentor can also add the kind of value a coach or friend might. There could also be times reverse mentoring can add value to the relationship, especially in complementary areas of strengths the mentored brings to the table or develops in the process. There is no magic to whether interactions are regular or irregular, virtual, in person or by phone or video. Each relationship finds its own niche that works.
At the end of the day, the mentoring relationship is priceless. It is essential and unique to our professional and personal growth and development.