There’s always that handful of individuals who know how to maximize their returns in a mentoring partnership. These are the same few who get picked for mentoring in those spontaneous or “natural” relationships that so many envy. These natural mentoring relationships are typically mentor-driven; in other words the mentor sees promise in this individual and wants to help the individual mentee realize his or her potential. We should understand that this is a very natural process and mentors who pick their mentees want to know that they are making a good investment of their time and energy.
It should not be surprising then that those who get picked also exhibit many of the same qualities and values of the mentor. Mentor and mentee may seem as if they are cut from the same cloth – mirroring each other in terms of gender, race, social class and educational standing. Yet, spontaneous mentoring across race, gender and ethnic lines of difference does occur if one of the parties makes the effort. This is particularly true if the mentee is seen as a winner or keeper. Such potential mentees must model the unwritten criteria desired by the corporate image of success. Such a mentee signals that they are worth the time that would be invested in them. In a study of lawyers in law firms and corporate counsel offices, the characteristics desired by mentors were stated as these:
“The image they (mentees) projected included not only working hard and producing a high quality work product, but also appearing confident and assertive. Mentors looked for lawyers who showed drive and ambition, were sociable and involved in office activities, and had work habits that were compatible with their own.”
The study found that many women and minority lawyers were unaware of these expectations. This lack of knowledge about the expectations of potential mentors was seen as a key reason for the lowered occurrence of spontaneous mentoring across cultures within law firms. While this finding is based upon objective research in only one profession, there is substantial data to support the belief that the same dynamics occur in every other profession and sectors of business, whether public or private.