...mentors and protégés!

Do you have a mentor?  What about a protégé?

These are two of the most interesting questions that my colleagues and I made to over 1100 highly successful women in nine countries.  We found a wealth of information that we have started to share with our relevant stakeholders, and fellow NSHMBA members are certainly a subset of these that might be interested in a briefing!

I hope that you can identify a person or more that in your career has been helpful, supportive, an advocate, more than a colleague or a friend to you.  If you can’t, and are interested in improving your career, FIND one!  If you have a bit of experience to share and are interested in people or in their organizations, BE one!  Even though a mentoring relationship tends to be more productive for one of the parties (hopefully the protégé!), there are many advantages for both.  Mentors’ “return on investment” –non-monetary, of course—includes a reputation as a professional that cares and is willing to give back to the community.  Most respondents for our survey were able to identify up to eight mentors (average between two and three, with some differences across countries), but not everybody had experienced this type of relationship.

What exactly do mentors do?

Mentors offer at least two distinguishable and measureable kinds of support to their protégés or “mentees”: one is emotional, psychological, or social, and the other has more of an instrumental or political quality.  Management researchers call the first one “Psycho-Social Support;” it is put in action when somebody says “Congratulations!  Your presentation to the board was great!” or “I feel your pain; you should have gotten the project.” The second type has been labeled “Career Support,” and we can see it happening when a senior person gets the mentee involved in projects or initiatives that provide exposure and future opportunities or is willing to back him or her for increasingly challenging assignments.  It’s also important to clarify that mentors are not coaches, guides, counselors, pals, or sages exclusively (see the box titled “Mentors Are Not:”), although they may perform some of these roles. 

Mentors often find protégés (or the other way around) in professional associations –NSHMBA is quite likely to be a fertile ground for mentoring relationships to flourish, but also your local chapter for Marketing / HR / Accounting / Purchasing or any other function that your day job involves.  Even your children’s school PTA, the neighbors’ group, or your church, synagogue, or similar congregation may provide a context for finding one or more mentors or protégés.  In fact, there is some evidence that suggests that “informal” mentoring programs often are more successful than their “formal” or company-sponsored equivalents, but the successful women from our study seemed to indicate the opposite.

The literature on mentoring is full with very helpful information to better understand what mentoring is, how it works, and when it works best.  There are also situations in which a mentoring relationship may be detrimental for the protégé –as in the event that the relationship is misinterpreted by outsiders or the mentor exploits the relationship—or for the mentor –for example, when the protégé does not live up to the expectations or abuses the senior person’s reputation.  Having a healthy mentoring relationship may have an occasional risk (what doesn’t?), but by the most part it seems to be a “win-win-win” for the mentors, mentees, and their organizations.  Recently, researchers have started to publish on emerging trends like “e-mentoring.”

Before I forget!  I should tell you that this literature and its results are NOT part of the book that my colleagues and I published in 2006!  If you happened to buy a copy, you know that there are many other very interesting themes there, but this is not one of them!!

Interested in mentors?

If you have had a positive mentoring experience or you are interested in becoming a better mentor, I invite you to share your thoughts by emailing me (drolivaslujan@gmail.com), or posting a comment on my blog (http://drolivaslujan.blogspot.com/).  ¡Hasta la próxima!

To learn more, check these out:

  • De Janasz, S.C., Sullivan, S.E. & Whiting, V.R. (2003), Mentor networks and career success:  Lessons for turbulent times.  Academy of Management Executive, 17(4) 78-91.
  • Hamilton, B. & Scandura, T. (2003), E-mentoring: Implications for organizational learning and development in a wired world.  Organizational Dynamics, 31 388-402.
  • Ragins, B.R. & Kram, K.E. (2007), The Handbook of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research, and Practice.  Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.



Mentors Are Not:

-       Coaches!  By the most part, coaches work with their clients on a narrow, specific skill set, using a relatively formal structure

-       Guides, Lecturers, or Counselors!  These tend to tell you what to do (and maybe even how), instead of just helping you figure it out

-       Role models!  One may have many of these, but infrequent interaction with them differentiates them from mentors

-       Pals!  The best mentoring relationships are between individuals with clear differences in status, connections, expertise, etc.

-       Always older!  Occasionally, a younger person may be an effective mentor for an older person that has recently changed careers or entered into a different environment

-       Advisers or Sages!  Of course, some mentors are very wise and helpful, but even a “typical Jane/Joe” can be a mentor to someone (see the “Best Mentors Do” box)

A mentor often plays several of the roles above, but each of those roles individually does not constitute a mentoring relationship.


Best Mentors Do:

ü  Provide a “sounding board” to their protégés

ü  Introduce them to people that can help them –inside or outside the organization

ü  “Go to bat” for their mentees

ü  Encourage them to try innovative things without taking excessive risks

ü  Show respect, confidence, and sometimes even fondness toward their mentees

ü  “Let go” of a mentoring relationship when the time is right

 In a nutshell, offer psycho-social and career support!