Powerful mentoring relationships can be key to professional success in the legal business. These partnerships enable a mentor and a protégé to meaningfully collaborate toward achieving specific, well-defined career and personal goals.
Mentoring can be formal or informal and crosses all different ages, ethnicities and genders. While sharing substantive legal expertise is an important part of mentoring, the emotional intelligence of both the mentor and mentee is critical to the overall success of the mentoring dynamic. The most effective mentoring draws on the mentor’s ability to identify and manage emotions; motivate oneself and others; and manage the overall mentoring relationship. The mentee, too, must learn these soft skills to maximize the relationship's effectiveness, both immediately and In the long term.
Effective mentors have valuable personal attributes, including being authentic, candid, non-judgmental, empathetic, committed, inspirational, positive and successful. Mentoring is a form of supportive coaching, and emotional intelligence underlies its success. To foster growth, it is important for mentors to focus on the mentee’s strengths, rather than pick over perceived weaknesses. Mentors also should focus on their unique role of being both inspirational and pragmatic. At the outset, mentors should set the tone of the relationship to ensure that attitudes, goals and expectations align. Because the most effective coaching styles differ from person to person, mentors must have the emotional skills to discern which method will work best for the mentee. There should be agreement up front on how to measure the success (or failure) of the relationship. The communicative environment between mentor and mentee should be open and non-judgmental, so that feedback can be freely offered and willingly received. A mentor’s candor is vital, especially with respect to delicate issues and choices the mentee may face. Importantly, what goes on in a mentoring relationship should be confidential, to develop and maintain the essential element of trust.
As the relationship develops, mentors should remember that the ultimate goal is to enable the mentee to flourish and grow to full potential, even if the mentee ultimately takes an unexpected path. Mentors should provide concrete, practical tips on successfully navigating through issues within the mentee’s organization, both substantively and politically. Sometimes the most memorable lessons mentors can impart are their own war stories: their failures and what they learned as a result.
Mentoring relationships are not meant to last forever. In fact, some of the most effective mentoring occurs under a fixed, limited timeline, helping ensure that the mentor and mentee stay focused on the specific goals of the partnership. Mentors should be sensitive to signals indicating the relationship has run its course and should carefully determine how best to wind it down in a timely, constructive and thoughtful way.
WHAT IS A SUCCESSFUL MENTEE?
Successful mentees are appreciative, courageous, eager to learn, flexible, open-minded, resilient and self-confident. With a clear vision of what they hope to achieve in a mentorship, mentees should be willing to step outside their comfort zone, seeking experiences from a wide variety of people, including those with whom they seem to have little in common, but who nevertheless have much to teach. Cultivating a series of mentoring relationships over time can be an invaluable way to learn about many perspectives and styles.
Mentees are not in the partnership just to passively receive information: they too play a key role in ensuring that the dynamic is one of give and take. There can be a great deal of work involved in a mentorship: mentees should be willing to break old habits and develop new ones by working diligently to ensure they are actively integrating the mentor’s advice into their lives. Mentors can provide mentees with a number of practical advantages, too, including access to their professional contacts, and mentees should understand the importance of developing this aspect of the relationship. Finally, mentees should not only show appreciation for their mentor’s generosity, but also should remember the importance of “paying it forward” by sharing their knowledge with others as their careers develop.
Mentoring requires a significant commitment of time and resources by both mentor and mentee, but offers opportunities for effective, meaningful growth not only on the personal level, but also the organizational level. Mentees learn many valuable skills that assist them in their career advancement. Of equal importance, when a company invests its resources in mentorships, it is ensuring its leadership development and succession planning and is invaluably positioning itself for future success.
For more information about EQ, please contact Christina Martini.