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Image via Flickr by michaelcardus

I have always been drawn to mentoring relationships.  As I look back over decades of learning, I find many instances of these types of relationships in my life.  In some cases I was the protege and in others I was the mentor.  Some relationships were formal while others just developed without any specific purpose or plan. As I participated in one of those kinds of relationships this weekend, I began to think about what constitutes a good mentoring relationship and why mentoring can be a very effective learning vehicle.

I think the most important element in a good mentoring relationship is respect between the individuals involved, and respect can be a tricky thing.  In addition, because mentoring is about building a relationship, there has to be some degree of compatibility. I may like a person, but not truly respect them. On the other hand, I have been known to respect individuals that I don’t really enjoy spending time with. However, every solid mentoring relationship I have ever experienced had strong elements of both respect and compatibility.

What I realize as I look at my business and personal relationships is that over time those lines are becoming more and more blurred.  The result is that the roles of mentor and protege are also less defined. At any given moment I may be in the role of mentor and then in the next minute I am the protege. The advantage of this (at least with my personality) is that life becomes even more of a learning adventure.

By approaching life as a learning adventure, it also means I become more open to opportunities both to learn and to share which almost always results in meeting new and interesting people and trying different and challenging things. So where I was once somewhat obsessed with finding mentors, my perception has changed. I now watch for what I have termed “mentor moments”  – just a small space of time to share insight with someone or gain useful information from another person.

When enough of these “mentor moments” occur with the same individual, I usually have already started working on deepening the relationship. The trick is to watch for and take advantage of those moments of mentoring that can happen throughout the day. So be aware, don’t miss the opportunity to find a new mentor (or protege); they may already be part of your life!!