Effective Mentor Protégé Relationships

We recently launched our Mentor program at the Oregon State University OSU Advantage Accelerator. In developing the program, I began to think about the attributes and workings of an effective mentor and a good protégé.

Effective mentors get off to a good start. They set good ground rules and hold them right from the beginning. My good friend and former collaborator at USC, Tom O’Malia, had three rules for the mentor-protégé relationship: (1) They should meet at regular preset meeting dates and times; (2) The protégé must send short notes from the last meeting and an agenda for the next session; and (3) Both documents must arrive at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, or else it is cancelled.

These are excellent ground rules, but what else makes for a good mentor?

Mentors set high standards, constantly challenging their protégés.

Mentors make the experience worthwhile. They are truth tellers.

Mentors have good people skills and can manage even the most difficult protégé.

Mentors can have those teaching moments in all situations.

Mentors realize what they do not know.

Mentors make their advice actionable.

I know this will sound corny, but mentors don’t give their protégés a fish, but teach their protégés how to fish. In other words, mentors try not to give the answers straight out.

Mentors do not allow a dependency to build, but rather encourage personal and professional development.

Mentors ask questions and do not give lectures.

Mentors are very good about confidentiality.

Mentors are very candid.

Mentors come prepared and don’t let protégés come unprepared.

Last of all, mentors know when to say goodbye.


On the other hand, protégés:

Experiment with different behaviors. This is a chance to see what works.

Protégés do not fool themselves, or their mentors.

Protégés set an agenda ahead of time, also send notes of the last meeting – in advance.

Protégés stick to the allotted time and make the time meaningful.

Protégés take responsibility for learning.

Protégés listen carefully, always focused on the present.

Protégés recognize the gift of mentoring, give back and make the time meaningful for the mentor.

Protégés articulate what they desire to learn.

Protégés agree to and do what is asked or negotiate an alternative.

Protégés keep timetables.

Protégés are candid.

Good protégés eventually become good mentors.

I am sure that this only touches upon a number of the issues and behaviors that mentors and protégés are required to consider in order to create an effective relationship. What would you add to the list?

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2 thoughts on “Effective Mentor Protégé Relationships

  1. Yesterday, we had a mentor team meeting at our accelerator. A few new points need to be added. A number focused on growing the soft skills of the protege. These include coaching on interpersonal skills, relationship building, learning to network effectively, public speaking, time management, and making best use of all their resources. Another interesting aspect of our experienced mentors was that they have learned to check their assumptions. The good mentors find out early, who is in charge, drop assumptions on good integrated team performance and do not underestimate what the CEO does not know.

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