What you should look for in a mentor

Whether you're just starting out in the workplace, halfway up the corporate ladder, or running the show, you could gain from a mentor.

In fact, you should have many mentors throughout your career - and even more than one mentor at once, say experts.

"Everyone hits a rock every now and then," says Shirley Peddy, a mentoring consultant and author of "The Art of Mentoring" (Bullion Books, 1999). "If you have a relationship with someone who knows you well, and cares about you, they will help you out."

Not everyone makes a good mentor. "Mentoring isn't just a skill, it is an art," Ms. Peddy contends.

For starters, this is not a job for your parents, your boss, or your spouse.

They all have a vested interest in your career. You need someone who will be objective - who will be honest - who will tell you: "Yeah, I'd leave."

Mentors should have the necessary work experience and skills to address the issues you need addressing. They should be well respected, good listeners, and they should keep all conversations confidential. (Sometimes it's better to have a mentor outside of your company.)

Mentors, Peddy says, should teach:

Judgment (helping you understand the consequences of your decisions);

Wisdom (teaching you the unspoken rules);

Resilience (showing you how to come back after a mistake);

Independence (giving you the ability to fly solo).

Still, asking someone to be a mentor - when the opportunity for free choice exists - can be a scary question for both sides.

Indeed, most mentoring relationships today are still informal - many people don't know they've been a mentor (or been mentored) until after the fact.

"It's like when you are going on a date with someone and you say, 'I'm interested in getting married,' " Peddy quips. "In most mentoring relationships, the "m" word is never spoken."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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