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Mentoring Rules: 5 for Mentors and 5 for Mentees

By Jane Hyun | Monster Contributing Writer

Mentoring relationships can be among the most rewarding career-related interactions you’ll have — if you take full advantage of them. Whether you’re interested in mentoring someone or looking for a mentor to help steer your career in the right direction, these guidelines can help you get and stay connected with the right person.

Five Tips for Being a Great Mentor

1. Encourage Your Protege to Communicate Openly: If he is of Asian descent and sees you as a formidable authority figure, it may take time for him to open up to you. If after your third or fourth meeting you still feel like your protege is hesitant about speaking up, try asking him some tough questions to encourage breakthroughs in conversation, such as: “If you could change one thing about your relationship with your boss, what would it be?” or “How do you think your Asian culture may have affected the way you work with your colleagues and clients?” If you ask the latter, be sure to proceed with sensitivity whenever you bring up issues of race and culture.

2. Set Firm Guidelines and Expectations from the Beginning: Determine how frequently or infrequently you will meet. Ask the protege to spell out what he wants from you; you should have a specific idea about what the person hopes to gain from the relationship, and he should know what you are hoping to accomplish. Find out what skills your protege wants to develop.

3. Provide Clear Performance Measures: This way, your protege can chart his career progress. Follow up with him the next time you meet.

4. Practice Active Listening: Don’t dominate the conversation; be an engaged listener and respect what your protege has to say.

5. Mentoring Is a Serious Business Relationship: If your current workload is overwhelming and you find it difficult to devote time to your protege, it may be better for you to bow out until a later date

Five Tips for Being a Great Protege

1. Take a Look Around: Examine your company and industry to identify people whom you admire or would like to emulate, regardless of nationality or gender. If you have trouble finding Asian American role models at the senior management level (a likely problem since there is a scarcity of Asian American executives in certain industries), seek out high-performing non-Asian American executives who take an interest in your development.

2. Approach Your Potential Mentor: You can’t start a mentoring relationship without asking someone to be your mentor. Be very definitive with him about what you hope to accomplish.

3. Don’t Be Overly Deferential: If you know you have a tendency to be more deferential with your elders and you hesitate to approach your mentor with seemingly frivolous day-to-day talk about your workplace, get over this hurdle and reach out to him. Being pleasantly persistent is the only way to develop any good business relationship. As you are the one looking for guidance, the onus is on you to be proactive. “My mentor, who is Caucasian, never used to ask me questions about my Asian background, because he was afraid to offend me,” says one young Korean American stockbroker who did not want his name to be used. “We were both being very politically correct and were not digging into some important workplace issues. Six months into our mentoring relationship, we are now talking very candidly about my Korean upbringing, including the emphasis my parents place on respect for authority and other cultural issues.”

4. Do Your Homework: If your mentor asks you to do some follow-up work to help you develop your professional skills, do it. There has to be accountability in the mentoring relationship for it to be effective.

5. Reaching Out Means Promoting Understanding: As an Asian American professional, you can play an active part in helping people understand the differences among Asian nationalities. If your mentor is not Asian American, you can be a critical link for him to the Asian culture. The more those in the non-Asian American corporate community know about the diversity of Asian cultures, the less likely they will be to make inaccurate assessments of you.

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