You were excited to meet one of the leaders in your field. He said he liked the project you just presented and that the topic was of special interest to him. He gave you his business card and suggested you give him a call next week so you can talk further. You think this might be the big break you have been waiting for—your chance to have the attention and support of a giant who can help you move up that career ladder. You are hoping you have found a mentor.
You do call, and he is receptive. He seems interested in your views and makes some good suggestions about your work. You feel confident that a mentoring relationship is developing. What can possibly happen to cause problems?
There are several negative situations that should quickly tell you the mentoring process is not going in the right direction. The following are some red flag scenarios that indicate that this is not the right mentor for you.
•You call at a prearranged time, and he is not there or is not available. You send an email asking if you had the wrong time, but get no response. You feel a bit hurt. You try emailing and calling again, but get no response. You can only conclude that he is not interested in serving as a mentor for you.
•You call at the correct time, and it’s apparent from his speech that he has had too much to drink. He can’t stay focused and he is rambling, using profanity, and seems almost confused about what you want. You realize this is not an ideal mentoring situation.
•You speak two or three times on the phone and you feel like things have been progressing well. Then, on the third call, he unexpectedly asks for a favor. He needs some computer analyses done and he notes this isn’t his strength. He says he knows you are quite good at it, and could you assist with this one project. You feel like a student again with the professor giving an assignment. This is not the mentoring relationship you envisioned.
•You have finally finished the draft of the article regarding your project that you have been working so hard on for the past six months. You are anxious to get his comments. He is quite complimentary, but then surprises you by saying it would be nice if you would consider putting him on as a co-author since he did offer some advice along the way.
•You are both at the same professional meeting. After a group networking session, he suggests you come to his suite for a drink. You immediately feel uncomfortable, and quickly decline.
Good mentoring relationships usually take some time to develop. You want to be certain the goals are clear and your values are consistent. While mentoring may benefit both parties, it is not a quid pro quo situation. The focus should be on the professional development of the mentee, not the mentor.
The mentor needs to be committed and willing to make time available. There should be trust and respect, with clear direction and objectives for the mentoring process. The relationship should always feel safe, and you should always feel supported, never like you have been taken advantage of or used for advancing the goals of the mentor.
Establishing a good mentoring relationship is too important to not get it right. If you find a red flag, stop, and then go down a different path.
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