Find a Protege YOU Can Mentor

By Barry Sweeny, 2003

INDEX:


Should you find a protégé for yourself ?

When you look through the list of web pages on this site which are designed specifically for mentors, one of the conclusions you may reach is that there are quite a few pages on selection of mentors and matching of mentors and proteges. If you have not yet reviewed these pages, I strongly suggest that you do so now.

Given the presentation of all these pages, you might assume that there is a predominant
opinion that people in mentoring pairs should be assigned by others at a mentoring
program leadership level, or by a manager. That view is the one this author holds. There are a number of reasons why this approach is often better than choosing a protégé for yourself, but that’s not what THIS web page is about.

Therefore, the first question is, “Should you try to find a protégé for yourself ?” I suggest the answer is “No.”


There are some circumstances and sometimes even programs in which protégés DO choose their own mentor. There are very few in which mentors seek and link to a protégé. Those programs in which mentors do the seeking are almost all on-line kinds of matching services and very few that this author knows do so within one organization.


Why Is It the Case That Most Mentors Do NOT Seek Their Own Protégés?

1. Potential mentors are some of the busiest people in any organization. They are, at least. informal if not formally accepted leaders in their organizations. They have a tremendous range of talents and experience, so they are in great demand.
They belong to many committees. They say “Yes” when asked to do extra duties.  If they see someone or some project in need of help, they help. It’s NOT that they are looking for more work to do. The work finds them. They are frequently just too busy to do one more thing like seek a formal mentoring relationship which is going to take a lot of time they do not have.

2. People who are interested in serving as mentors and who seek mentor training BEFORE they are assigned to a protégé, are rather rare. As a mentor program coordinator of about 140 mentors over 4 years, I estimate that only about 20 of them were so excited about mentoring that they volunteered before there was even a protégé to assign them. This does not explain directly why the other 120 mentors didn’t volunteer, only that about 85% of mentors DO NOT do so.

Instead, and thankfully, mentors DO typically respond when requested to mentor in a specific situation in which it is evident that they are uniquely matched to the needs of a specific and needy person.


3. There is another, almost unspoken factor that I feel explains why potential mentors do not volunteer in big numbers. It’s as if some people feel that to volunteer places a person in an uncomfortable, compromising situation in which others may question why you want to be a mentor. In other words, it may lead others to question your motivations, as if helping others is a suspicious activity. My suggestion is that this factor is not a big deal, or even a consideration to many mentor candidates, who frankly don’t care what others may think. I only suggest that it may be a part of what less-than-self-confident mentoring candidates may wonder about. After all, some people ARE motivated improperly, and some people ARE motivated by what others may think of them.


4. > How often have you ever been formally approached to serve as a mentor to another person?
> How often have your most stellar qualities been affirmed and the suggestion made that those qualities would be very helpful models for others to emulate?> How often does the culture of your organization, workplace, or volunteer setting honor the gifts that people are given and elevate the role of helping others by giving of our of time and caring?

In most workplaces and settings I have experienced such offering of recognition, affirmation, and honor are a rare, even very special occasion. They can be just simply wonderful when they happen, but they can also be embarrassing, which is why they are almost always missing or at least very infrequent. Yet such affirmations are integrated with the process of asking people to serve as mentors. My suggestion is that the culture of the workplace does not often sanction extension of such recognition and honor, even to the best among us. The risks of offending the rest of us, of making US feel uncomfortable when we are NOT recognized, is so strong a pressure that even those who are the best among us will carefully AVOID situations which might elevate them above the rest of us. It makes THEM uncomfortable too! And so, we don’t volunteer when such new roles might embarrass us and make us uncomfortable.

I have had many mentors tell me, “Mentoring is a great idea, but, if I am to be made an example and a model for others, no thanks.” All this is to say that cultural norms are powerful and they effect choices we make. If mentoring programs are to succeed, they must deal with the fact that they are fundamentally a counter-culture initiative.

IF none of these factors seem to matter to you, AND IF you want to mentor someone else, AND IF there is no formal means to become matched to such a protégé, THEN it might make sense for you to move ahead with the process. Therefore, regardless of whether this author supports the approach or not, the issue still remains, IF you ARE going to do so, or if you NEED to do so, “HOW do you find a protégé for yourself to mentor?”


Think About It Before Acting

Before you think about WHO could be your protégé, first do some self-reflection and decide what your strengths and gifts are. Focus primarily on these areas, because these are the areas in which you need complementary needs in a protégé. In other words, what they lack and need to gain, your must possess as a mentor.

  • If your protégé needs to learn content knowledge, the mentor must already know it, or know how to access it.
  • If your protégé needs a set of specific skills, the mentor must be able to do those skills, or know others who do, so the mentor can connect the protégé to observe and learn from them.
  • If your protégé needs help strategizing about learning, work or career, the mentor needs strengths as a strategist, an approach to thinking that some other experts just cannot do. Can you?
  • If your protégé needs to build their network and make contacts which can potentially help them, your must already have such a network.
  • If your protégé needs opportunities to assume new responsibilities and to grow from a challenge, you need to be a mentor who can sponsor them, introduce
    them to others, advocate on their behalf for what you need, or even be in a position themselves to open the doors to the new challenge they need.

Use the SAME Process and Criteria

Use the SAME process and criteria that effective mentoring programs do. Why is this the starting point? Because regardless of whether YOU choose a protégé for yourself or someone else in a mentoring program assigns you one, the PROCESS and CRITERIA for selection of a mentor and matching of a mentor to a protégé should BE IDENTICAL. In other words, best practice in program selection and matching is also best practice for do-it-yourselfers.

Therefore, if you skipped over the links to the web pages mentioned above, and have not read them yet, go there and do it now.


Decide Where Such a Person Would “Hang out” & Look There

If you want to catch any kind of fish, go to any old lake. But, if you want to catch rainbow trout, go to a rushing stream in Colorado. If you want to catch Sturgeon go to a very BIG lake. If you want a protégé with specific qualities and strengths (you DO) then you need to “fish” for that person at places where you are likely to find such people.

Let’s use the examples provided above to think about where to look for your protégé.

Ways Your Protégé Wants to Grow = What Your Mentor Must Possess Where Might Such a Mentor Be Found?
If your protégé needs to learn content knowledge, the mentor must already know it, or know how to access it. • In a school or training department where the mentor is TEACHING that knowledge (and the protégé is taking a course)•ï In a job, civic, religious, or fraternal group, or avocation to which the protégé belongs
If your protégé needs a set of specific skills, the mentor must be able to do those skills, or know others who do, so the mentor can connect you to observe and learn from them. • In a school or training department where the mentor is TEACHING those skills (and the protégé is taking a course)• In a job or professional, civic, religious, or fraternal organization
to which the protégé belongs
If your protégé needs help strategizing about your learning, work or career, the mentor needs strengths as a strategist, an approach to thinking that some content or skills experts can or cannot do. • If this is YOUR strength, observe for the LACK of this quality in others at work, and in other organizations such as professional, fraternal, or civic groups.• Ask others you trust, “Who do you know in any setting who is developing as a leader BUT is not a strategist, and not as productive and effective as they need to be?
If your protégé needs to build your network and make contacts which can potentially help you, your mentor must already have such a network. • Observe leaders at work, and in other organizations, to see who NEEDS to become more socially adept and connected. Watch HOW
they relate to others and then ask if they would like to talk with you.
Don’t ask up front if you can mentor them on building a network. Get to
know them a bit first. See if you can ask questions that allow that need
to come out and then ask to mentor them.• Ask others you trust, “What person in a leadership role do you know in this or any setting who seems disconnected and needs to learn to network and build connections?”

• Become involved in and contribute to professional, fraternal, or civic groups where you are likely to meet people with the needs you seek.

If your protégé needs opportunities to assume new responsibilities and to grow from a challenge, you need a mentor who can sponsor you, introduce you to others, advocate on your behalf for what you need, or even be in a position themselves to open the doors to the new challenge you need. • If the opportunities should be at work, you have two options:A. Inform others of your desire to contribute more by mentoring others.
Tell them what you perceive your strengths to be and describe the kind of person who would need to develop those strengths. Ask others if they can
help you identify such a person.

B. Become involved in and contribute to professional, fraternal, or civic
groups where, if you are seen to contribute and be helpful, the others will perceive you as someone to help in gaining leadership opportunities
and roles.


Work Your Network

You needn’t try to find your protégé all by yourself. Many people LIKE to help others, have many connections, and would be glad to help you IF they just knew HOW. Put the people you already know to work on your behalf. No matter if many others say no to you. Use your friends, family, professional colleagues, even folks who are only your acquaintances, who will help you by:

  • Telling them your goals
  • Telling them your desire to locate a protégé with the needs that would match the strengths you have
  • Asking them if they know people that fit your description.
  • Asking them to keep thinking about and looking for such a person for you.

It may be that they don’t know someone you could mentor, but it may also be that they know someone who does know who your protégé could be. Get a web of contacts working on your behalf.


“Advertise” For a Protégé

Create a description of the person you seek, but not stating NEEDS as the focus. Instead focus on finding a person who wants to learn, to grow, and to become more effective in ways that match your strengths.

Describe why you are motivated to find such a person. This is critical as others WILL wonder why.

Share that description verbally and in writing with people who are willing to help you search for your protégé.

Place the job description and your contact information in places where you are already well known, NOT where you are unknown:

  • On bulletin boards at work or where you spend part of your time.
  • In a company or organizations newsletter
  • In e-mail notices you broadcast to the group in your e-mail software’s address book
  • Where ever your potential protégé might be looking.

Do Things That Will Help Potential Protégés Notice You

As stated above (but a little differently) become involved in and contribute to professional work projects, even assignments that others have and with which they may need help. If that won’t work for you, join professional, fraternal, or civic groups where, if you are seen to contribute and be helpful, the others will perceive you to be someone to go to for assistance. Some of those contacts can turn into more formal mentoring realtionships.


Ask For a Recommendation or Testimony

This one is simple. When talking to others you already help, or even mentor, ask them for a written statement that explains their role with you and what they have gained from it. Also ask them to write a sentence or two telling what they would tell others about working with you as a mentor. Then, use these recommendations in the other strategies given above.


Finally, Interview and Select the Best Protégé For YOU

One of the biggest obstacles in a sales environment is sales people who do all the work, but do not ASK for the order or sale. Amazing. They need to learn to be “closers”, and to close the deal they have been negotiating.

In order to find your ideal protégé and to create the right mentoring relationship for your strengths, you need to just do the things I have described above and keep ASKING if others need a mentor. Basically, you can start by setting up an informal meeting over coffee or food, for which you should pay. Then, you can proceed one of two ways:

  1. Don’t ask up front if you can mentor them on building a specific need. Get to know them a bit first. See if you can ask questions that allow that need to come out and then ask to mentor them on it.
  2. Be frank about what you seek. Don’t try to be subtle. State openly your desire and reason for wanting to be a mentor. Explain the kind of strengths you have, and therefore, the combination you think the potential mentoring relationship would be, and then ask the potential protégé if they see themselves as fitting into that picture.