Mentoring is one of those strange, unknowable beasts. It can be hard to do, difficult to explain, but can have enormous benefits for all involved. Both mentors and mentees find significant value in the process – but it’s more like a dance and less like a business relationship than you might imagine. And in today’s multi-level, matrixed organizations, finding just the right mentor-mentee relationship can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

For women in particular, the challenge is even more complicated. Studies show that women find it more difficult to find mentors – and a LinkedIn survey of over 1000 working women indicated that 20% of women have never had a mentor at work.

Over the years, I have been a mentor and have, in turn, been mentored. And I have come to realize that there are three clear elements that need to align for mentoring to be successful. I call them the “three Ms”:

  • Match-making: In many ways, mentoring is like dating. What you are looking for is a “match” – and this goes far beyond whether you “like” someone or not. To have a successful match – on both sides of the mentoring equation – it is essential that you find someone who is actually interested in the mentoring process. If you have been matched through your work, then you might find there is just not the level of commitment you want or need. Ensure that your mentor-match has the time, focus and interest that you expect or need.
  • Mentality: Do you know – or have heard about your mentor-match? Do you respect their experience and achievements? Do they embody the kind of values that you agree with? What do others say about them? Learning as much as you can before you meet, allows you to create an informed picture of your match – so that you can spend your face-to-face time determining whether you have an alignment of values and interests.
  • Mobilize: To get the most value out of a mentoring relationship, it’s best to start before you feel you “need” a mentor. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it takes time to build up a relationship. It takes effort to create the kind of connections that can help you when you do need it. And this means that you must mobilize your thinking and your efforts around mentoring – because it also takes time to find the right person.

Nina Nets It Out: Mentoring can be highly valuable for all involved. But it takes time to seek out and secure the right relationship. Use the Three Ms of mentoring to help guide your way.