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The art and science of mentoring

Lisa Fain

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How to follow a formula for success in a mentorship.

MDRT Peer Mentoring Program: MDRT members mentor other MDRT members who are looking for stability in their careers or seeking to specialize in their market. For more information or to enroll, visit

There is a magic to informal mentoring relationships, but there is an art and a science to formal mentoring relationships. When art and science are applied, the results are exponential, and the progress is measurable and self-generative. Mentoring that is formal and structured requires intentionality and focus, and these efforts pay off in spades.

Triple win of mentoring

People often think that mentoring is solely for the benefit of a mentee. While it is well-accepted that mentees experience many benefits from mentoring, we know that mentoring is also extremely beneficial for the mentor. Beyond the satisfaction of giving back, studies show that mentors improve their skills and competencies, gain valuable perspective and become more culturally competent, among other things. Mentoring for MDRT members has a third win as well: the profession. Mentoring produces a greater sense of engagement, promotes innovation, enables the formation of a community and amplifies results. The more MDRT members can foster and participate in a mentoring culture, the more we create a triple win.

Four phases of a mentoring relationship

Effective mentoring follows four predictable phases. Although there are “good” mentoring relationships that might miss one or more of these phases, the most effective mentoring relationships pass through each of the four. If you’re looking to create measurable results in your mentoring relationship, moving through each of the four phases is essential. What’s more, when mentoring relationships fizzle out, we can often blame the skipping of one or more of these phases. Note that the phases are sequential, but sometimes mentoring partners will go backward in the cycle and revisit a prior phase.

+ The first phase is preparation. This phase begins even before you meet your mentoring partner. In this phase, mentor and mentee think through their reasons for mentoring and their preferences and assumptions about mentoring. When they begin meeting, they take the time to get to know each other and build safety and trust to share openly and create a safe learning environment.

+ The second phase is the negotiation. In this phase, mentoring partners co-create the terms of their mentoring relationship. They discuss the parameters and boundaries of their mentoring relationship, ground rules for interacting, how they will operate with confidentiality and the length of their mentoring relationship.

+ The third is enabling growth, during which the mentor and mentee establish mutually defined goals for the mentee’s learning and set about goal achievement.

+ The final phase is closure. At the conclusion of the relationship, the mentoring partners revisit their time together, celebrate their achievements, express appreciation, and determine whether and how they will move forward together.

How to find and choose the right mentor for you

Before determining who should be your mentor or worrying about where to find a mentor, prospective mentees must first determine what they want to learn. Ultimately, mentoring is a relationship focused on learning, and if we focus too much on charisma, fit or commonality, the learning may become secondary.

Once a prospective mentee determines their learning goal, they should begin identifying who might be a fit for that learning goal. What qualities does this person have? What experience?

While one might find a mentor where they work, it can be difficult for mentees to feel comfortable sharing their shortcomings when there is a supervisory relationship or when political considerations come into play. MDRT offers mentoring programs and training to guide you along the way, as well as the chance to create a relationship in your profession outside of your organization.

Once a good fit has been identified, mentees should approach finding a mentor similarly to how they build their network of clients or referrals. First, build the relationship. Then, see if it makes sense to work together. Rather than specifically asking for mentoring — which can feel amorphous and vague — mentees can ask prospective mentors about an area where the mentor is exceptionally skilled. After a few conversations, and if it still feels like the right fit, ask to establish a mentoring relationship.

Lisa Fain is the CEO of Center for Mentoring Excellence and an expert in the intersection of cultural competency and mentoring.

CONTACT: Lisa Fain


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