How to Get Started

Follow these tips to establish a successful mentoring relationship.

Larry Ambrose

So you've decided to become a mentor. You are about to embark on a truly rewarding experience that benefits you, your protege, and the healthcare field. Having made the decision to seek a mentoring relationship, you are probably wondering what to do next.

Knowing the right steps to take early on can get your mentoring relationship moving in the appropriate direction. With that in mind, following are a few tips for getting started:

Understand the difference between mentoring and managing.

Understanding what's involved in your role as a mentor-and how it differs from your role as a manager-is key to providing your protege with a meaningful mentoring experience. Your role as a manager and as a mentor may seem very similar. In both roles you serve as a combination of coach, confidant, and sounding board to someone. However, as a mentor, you have to be prepared to take on a broader, more personal relationship than the one you have established with your employees. The main difference between managing and mentoring is mostly a matter of intensity and direction. Managers are concerned with their employees' performances, making sure they complete tasks accurately, on time, and within budget. As a mentor, your purpose is to provide your protege with perspective and questions that encourage learning and to challenge the individual to think in new and creative ways. And unlike the manager/employee relationship, the mentor/protege relationship extends beyond the typical workday or a traditional workplace role.

Know what you can offer.

Before you begin as a mentor, you'll need to clarify what type of mentoring relationship interests you. For example, you may be interested in mentoring someone who is new to the healthcare field. Or maybe you would like to help an employee in your organization who shows great promise as a leader but could use a little guidance. Understanding what you have to offer as a mentor will help you decide they type of mentoring relationship you want. Do you have special knowledge and skills specific to your job? If so, you may want to consider mentoring someone who is on the same career track as you. Think about the things you know and how you learned them. One of your biggest roles as a mentor is to bring added value by sharing significant lessons learned from personal experience.

Select a protege.

Once you have decided what type of person you would like to mentor and what you have to offer, you can begin the selection process. The best proteges are individuals who are excited about learning and leading their own development. When choosing a protege, look for someone who catches your attention-someone who shows interest, energy, and capability. If you haven't noticed anyone with such attributes, ask your colleagues. Your human resource or training and development department may know of people within your organization who have expressed interest in becoming a protege. You can also ask fellow managers if they have any staff members who have expressed interest in having a mentor. Your organization may even have a mentoring program that can pair you with a protege based on your skills and knowledge and your protege's goals. Of course you don't have to mentor someone within your organization. Attending meetings and events hosted by your professional association is an excellent way to meet a potential protege.

You may be in a situation where an individual has approached you for mentoring guidance. If that is the case, you'll want to have a conversation with that person about his or her accomplishments, commitment, and goals. You will also want to share what mentoring means to you and find out what the individual perceives it to mean. This approach can help you agree on what you both want to accomplish.

Make an offer.

Once you've found someone you are interested in mentoring, you'll need to approach that individual with an offer. Let the potential protege know what you have noticed in him or her and that you would like to offer your mentoring assistance. Be clear that you are not suggesting a deficiency on the part of the potential protege-but hoping to offer added value. Don't be surprised by the reaction. The individual may feel honored and privileged that you offered; or defensive and skeptical, wondering what your ulterior motives are. Taking part in a mentoring relationship is a big decision for anyone, so give your potential protege plenty of time to think it over. Make yourself available to answer questions he or she will undoubtedly have about you and what you have to offer.

When you both have agreed to go forth with the mentoring relationship, both of you will need to talk to your protege's manager. Let the manager know what role you wish to play in your protege's development and ask for some guidance and support.

Prepare for the first meeting.

One of the objectives of your first meeting should be to establish goals for the mentoring relationship. Before your first formal meeting, ask your protege to come prepared with answers to questions such as: What do you expect from a mentor? What are your development goals for the year? Where do you see yourself in three years? As a mentor, you should be prepared to share your expectations and goals as well. A discussion about what you both hope to accomplish and gain will give your relationship direction.

Also during the first meeting, decide on how often you will meet and whether you will communicate in person or via e-mail or telephone. Make sure you emphasize that scheduled meetings need not be the only time you communicate with each other. Let your protege know that you are accessible to hear questions, thoughts, and concerns at any reasonable time. Before your meeting is over, decide on when you will meet next. Your first two or three meetings should have some sort of structure to them. Pose a question that your protege should prepare an answer for the next time you meet-this will give you something to structure the meeting around.

Finally, build in a feedback expectation to the relationship so both you and the protege can say whether you are getting what you need out of the arrangement. This self-renewal capability can get your relationship back on track if it starts heading in the wrong direction.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor, ACHE has a number of resources to help you get started. The Leadership Mentoring Network can help match you with a protege who has similar career interests. For more information, call ACHE's Career Resource Center at (312) 424-9446 or complete the online application at the link above. A mentoring relationship can also serve as your project for advancement to Fellow status in ACHE. For information on the Fellow project mentoring option, call the Division of Member Services at (312) 424-9386.

Larry Ambrose is a managing partner at Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc., an organizational development consulting firm that helps organizations create mentoring cultures. He is author of the book, A Mentor's Companion.

Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc.
2 N. Riverside Plaza, Ste. 1433
Chicago, IL 60606
(800) 648-0543

From Healthcare Executive, May/June 2001