Thursday, May 10, 2012

When Mentoring Relationships Falter

Something often plagues MBA students and many young professionals in finance. Why don't mentoring relationships always work as they were envisioned or designed? Why do mentoring relationships often get off to exciting, hopeful, ambitious starts, but flicker, whimper and die out? Why do they start with promise and then meander into nowhere?

Not all mentoring relationships, we know, falter.  Some thrive. Some lead to life-long relationships and friendships.  Some lead to opportunities, new jobs, promotions and even new careers, activities, and hobbies.  Note the themes of thriving relationships. They suggest something refreshing, new, opportunistic, and different.

But what about those that falter, the life of which oozes out and dwindles to nothing?

What happens when the eager first-year MBA student at Virginia, Emory or Berkeley links up with a principal at a private-equity firm. They meet, greet, exchange business cards and discuss respective backgrounds. They deduce they have much in common--shared backgrounds, shared acquaintances, and shared interests in finance.

There is an intersection, where they bond and which spawns "a relationship."  Because of the bond, the mentor offers an insider's list of suggestions for how the Emory MBA can pursue a career in private equity or venture capital. The mentor visualizes happily the student following in her path. The student expresses his good fortune; he has found the toolkit or treasurer's chest that can lead him to an associate position at Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Jefferies, Citadel, Kleiner Perkins or Morgan Stanley.

They go their separate ways, exchange e-mail messages of gratitude, arrange a follow-up phone conference call, and then meet for coffee in New York weeks later. All of a sudden, the student detects diminished enthusiasm from the mentor. The mentor, distracted by other worries and pressing demands, is not attentive and even forgets some personal details about the student. The student stumbles, uncertain in how to respond, how to take advantage of the moment, how to push the relationship along, or how to seize the day.

Worse of all, the student hesitates afterward to reach out again to the mentor.  Or (in some cases) the mentor, noticing how unprepared or clumsy the student seemed to have been, is suddenly less interested in "grabbing a cup of coffee" the next time he is in New York.  

Dozens of reasons exist for why some relationships don't work. Time pressures loom large. Students, young professionals, and experienced leaders in the industry all have deadlines, immediate priorities, meetings to attend, and projects to complete.  The values and promises of a mentoring relationship suddenly appear too vague when the student has final exams and the mentor has a billion-dollar deal to execute. Inevitably, the relationship slips to a spot near the bottom of the priority list.

Other times, relationships falter because the student or young professional expects too much too quickly, having planned to exploit the relationship to achieve a concrete objective.  He pursues the relationship because he wants a job, a promotion, a raise, or a transition to a new group. When he realizes the relationship may not lead to quick benefits, no matter how engaged, connected or powerful the mentor is, he loses interest and eagerness. He is less likely to maintain touch, less likely to call or send the occasional e-mail greeting.

The relationship loses its buzz, its special bond, because specific objectives aren't being accomplished. These relationships falter because they are pegged too often to personal objectives.

The best relationships, experienced mentors say, are those where the relationship proceeds on a natural course. Both sides, because they are comfortable, share experiences, opinions, and histories. Both sides, because they are comfortable, offer constructive feedback and enjoy the give and take of fun, fruitful conversation. 

In finance, mentoring relationships continue to be critical--especially in certain industry segments. To get hired in or to advance in private equity, venture capital, hedge funds and boutique investment banking, relationships and ties to experienced people often count more than formal recruiting processes.

Some mentors, of course, are more active, more interested in the relationship, and more successful at it than others. The onus, however, continues to fall on the younger professional to launch the ties, to cultivate and to maintain them. Some mentors complain that students and entry-level professionals make it complex when they often approach them unprepared, always seeking quick solutions and answers.

Still, some mentors know relationships thrive, even when the student isn't always prepared when they meet, partly because the two understand the motives, interests, dreams and styles of each other. Many relationships indeed have concrete benefits, even if they are reached years later. A mentor can provide guidance to a student, who uses it years later as an associate making presentations to clients, handling the pressure of long work hours, or being promoted to Vice President.

CFN, over the past three years, has explored mentoring relationships in finance frequently. Based on experiences from mentors, students and entry-level professionals, the posts below share success stories and provide some guidelines on how to sustain relationships, how to keep conversations and sessions relevant, and vibrant, and how relationships eventually lead to wonderful benefits.

A few relationships will inevitably fall flat, but they don't always have to.

Tracy Williams

See also:

How Mentors Can Help MBA Students

How Mentors Are Invaluable in Recruiting 

Mentors:  Still Critical, Useful, Important

How Affinity Groups Help in Mentoring

No comments:

Post a Comment