Mentoring Pathways—The Mentoring Relationship: You have to want it! (Part 3)

By Deborah Hodges, M.A. and Bonnie Sloan FSMPS

This is the third article in the series of articles on mentoring and career development. This article describes how to establish and maintain a good mentoring relationship. The focus is on the necessary “two-way street” aspect of mentoring, the qualities and behaviors that makes a successful mentoring relationship.

The upcoming SMPS mentoring program is called “Mentoring Pathways” because a successful mentoring relationship is a progressive, ongoing process in a defined direction. Establishing and maintaining a successful mentoring relationship requires a clear initial understanding of objectives and expected outcomes; a plan with specific activities; and a commitment by both individuals to see the process through to a successful conclusion.

Like most successful relationships between two people, the mentor/mentee relationship is definitely a “two-way” street. Throughout the process, both individuals give something to the relationship and get something as well. The mentors gain the opportunity to exchange ideas with another person, professional recognition, and an opportunity to shape the future of the industry. The mentees obtain a sense of realism of the professional culture, enhanced connections, and access to continuing education.

Just how do individuals know what to expect in a mentoring relationship? What’s reasonable and what’s not? The following text presents some suggestions to help make establishing and maintaining a mentoring relationship easier and more effective.


Motivation is a key factor in any worthwhile endeavor and, in particular, mentors need to have a genuine interest in helping someone else grow and succeed. For the mentee, access to a mentor is a powerful motivator, because it provides access to an extended network of resources and contacts. A clear understanding of the role an individual has in a mentoring relationship is critical in making a realistic appraisal of what the other person has to offer and in setting reasonable expectations for the relationship. In the future, SMPS Mentoring Pathways plans to offer on-line training guides for mentors and mentees, as well as a list of useful resources about mentoring. Learning about the mentoring process is essential prior to establishing a mentoring relationship.

For the mentor, the relationship is about guidance, not criticism; about meeting the mentee’s current needs, planning for future career goals; and about inspiring growth and learning. Mentors can offer advice, describe techniques to recognize shortcuts or pitfalls, give an overview of the “big picture,” and help mentees to think in new ways or understand from new perspectives.

The mentee should understand that the mentoring relationship is about advancing his/her professional skills and knowledge, and meeting agreed upon professional goals. The mentee is always responsible for his/her decisions and career progress. Mentees should constantly look for what else they can do and learn along the way. Mentees should not expect to be provided with contacts, supplied with a new job, or provided work for the mentee’s firm.


Commitment often means time: to meet regularly, to answer questions, to allow a relationship to grow and flourish. Both partners also need to respect the process and each other’s time. Mentors schedules are often difficult due to their current professional positions; mentees need to take the initiative to ask questions promptly and allow time for responses. If a mentor travels or is frequently in meetings, then a mentee needs to access if this response time aligns with the expectations of the relationship.

Commitment also often means, “Put it in writing.” An action plan or a career plan is one way to build a commitment between a mentor and mentee. A defined plan has positive implications. It is really helpful in maintaining a mentoring relationship, because it tracks how often you really do meet, for how long, and what was accomplished; and helps to measure progress toward stated goals. In a relationship, even thank-you notes in writing are evidence of increased commitment over a verbal, “Thanks.”


Both mentors and mentees need to work at the relationship and the mentoring process. One guideline is for each partner to believe that he/she is contributing over 50 percent to the relationship — making the resulting relationship operate at “100 percent plus.”

Another key element is active listening and learning by both parties. The mentor should willingly share his/her experience, wisdom, judgment, and knowledge; and honestly admit when questions or requested information are outside of the mentor’s current skills or knowledge base. For example, this latter situation may inspire the mentor to increase his/her own knowledge or information to be able to provide guidance to the mentee; may present an opportunity for the mentee to do some individual research; or may result in an opportunity for joint research by the two partners.

The mentee’s contributions to the relationship include the willingness to try new things, develop new skills, and even branch out into areas of marketing that may be at first out of the mentee’s “comfort zone.” Growth can be challenging and sometimes difficult; however, it is usually also rewarding and interesting.


  • 1)  Define expectations that you want from the relationship
  • 2)  Define your career goals and when you want to achieve them
  • 3)  Write up your expectations and your career goals
  • 4)  Communicate your goals and expectations to your mentor
  • 5)  Give a copy of your goals to your mentor
  • 6)  Assess if your potential mentor has a genuine interest in your area of interest and you
  • 7)  Define how you will communicate with one another- one-to-one meetings, telephone or email
  • 8)  Define how often you will meet or communicate with each other –be flexible
  • 9)  Inquire about what is a reasonable response time if you have a question
  • 10)  Write a brief summary of your thoughts and ideas to refer to until your next meeting.


The two-way learning experience typically is rewarding and fun. Sharing experiences and knowledge, celebrating growth and progress toward goals, and building friendships that last a lifetime can all be part of a mentoring relationship. An effective mentoring relationship is a model of collaboration- it provides a collaborative and learning experience of new ways of thinking and acting to build a career. Having a mentor outside of one’s employer helps the mentee develop marketable, career-enhancing skills within the mentee’s organization and the profession.

The next article in the series on mentoring is “Overcoming Challenges in a Mentoring Relationship” which identifies stumbling blocks in any good relationship and how to successfully handle them. You can read and obtain copies of the full series of articles on mentoring and career development by going to Mentoring Pathways on the SMPS website:

Supplemental Reading:

  • Peddy, Ph.D. Shirley. The Art of Mentoring. Lead, follow and get out of the way. Houston: Bullion Books, 2001.
  • Shea, Gordon. Making the Most of Being Mentored. How to grow from a mentoring partnership. Menlo: Crisp Learning,1999.
  • Stoddard, David and Robert J. Tamasy. The Heart of Mentoring. Ten proven principles for developing people to their fullest potential. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2003.

Deborah J. Hodges,M.A. is the Chair of the SMPS National Mentoring Committee and past president of the Chicago Chapter of SMPS (two terms). She received a SMPS National Foundation Grant and conducted an 18-month original research study regarding mentoring in the A/E/C industry. She is the founder and president of Golden Square, a national firm that works with clients to create and maximize their marketing and communications to deliver results. She can be reached at

Bonnie Sloan, FSMPS, is a member of the SMPS National Mentoring Committee and Principal of the Learning Curve, a marketing communications consulting firm located in Bridgewater, MA. She can be contacted at

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