Successful Mentoring Relationships: Keys to Success

By Lisa Petrilli

I absolutely love this photo of piano keys and the fact that, where you might be expecting a photo of a key that opens a lock, these keys create beautiful harmonies.

When we talk about successful mentor-mentee relationships, I think that’s critical.

Simply put, I believe the two keys to these relationships, simply based on my own experiences, are:

1. A trusted connection between the mentor and mentee

2. A genuine desire by the mentor to see the mentee succeed.

Now, you’d probably think that both of these would be a “given” in any mentor-mentee relationship.  Yet, in my experience with more formal mentor-mentee programs, either as part of leadership development programs, corporate development programs, or as part of new employee onboarding initiatives, the connection is not always made. Thus the desire to see the mentee succeed is demonstrated at a surface level only.

This isn’t to say companies and executives can’t structure highly effective mentoring programs – they absolutely can. My fellow Marketing Executives Networking Group member Niki Fielding did a beautiful job of outlining an effective structure with boundaries and parameters in “How and Why to Mentor the Next Generation of Marketers” that I believe is applicable in many of the more formalized mentor-mentee relationships.

And I’ve talked with CEOs who feel very strongly about the importance of mentoring to the success of their companies and their ability to develop great leaders.  These CEOs make more formalized mentoring a priority in their organizations.

My overriding experience has simply been that those relationships that have grown organically because I have worked with or for a leader for some time, or have led a particular individual and created a trusted bond with that person over time, have been much more instrumental in my own growth and personal fulfillment than those that were not entered into with a trusted connection already established.

How about you? What has your experience with mentoring leaders been – either as the mentor or mentee?

Please share in the comments and join Steve Woodruff and me, along with the brilliant #LeadershipChat Community on Tuesday evening, February 8th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time as we discuss this topic and share insights and experiences – you won’t want to miss it!

You can find me on Twitter at @LisaPetrilli and on LinkedIn at I look forward to seeing you there! You can also eMail me anytime at [email protected]

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Photo is 2.16.09: ivory by Team Dalog.


  1. I have one more key to the relationship.. That is the mentee must pass it on!
    Steve Bell´s last blog post ..Leadership Lessons From Watching Football

  2. Lisa,
    I think the mentor-mentee relationships that are successful are based on sound principles of trust, understanding, and love. It may sound weird to say love, but the love I am referring to is the brotherly love. From my experience, I have seen these types of mentor-mentee relationships develop from a genuine friendship built. The mentor genuinely wants to see the mentee succeed. The mentee genuinely wants to succeed and is willing to do what it takes to succeed. Thanks, Brandon
    Brandon W. Jones´s last blog post ..Don’t Stop Learning Leaders!

    • Brandon,

      I love that you are using the word love – there is nothing weird about it. Thank you for sharing your beautiful comment, I genuinely appreciate it and hope you’ll join in the discussion tomorrow night!

  3. IMO when a mentoring relationship is really working it becomes two way; I learn almost as much (or even more) from the entrepreneurs or small business I mentor. Sometimes it happens that a person I mentor in my area of expertise, turns around and mentors me in their different area of expertise :-)

    Yes, it is very important for a leader to mentor the next in line, just in case.
    CASUDI´s last blog post ..THE IDEAL INTERVIEW

    • Great topic Lisa. @casudi, I really do believe the mentoring has to go both ways, too. Find someone you admire and respect. Who respects and admires you and be open for change. From sharing technology and knowledge to making connections, we learn best when learning is mutual.

      • Thank you, Robbin. I really love your comment about being open to change; when both parties are open the opportunity for the relationship to be transformational is given life. Thank you so much for sharing here – it means so much to me!

    • Caroline, it’s very inspiring to hear of your experience. Excellent insight that it really can go both ways. Thrilled that you shared your thoughts here – thank you!

  4. Lisa – Aside from loving your writing style, I really like this post and the two “keys” you defined. They are critical to any mentor/mentee relationship. Trust, and a true connection between the two is an absolute need. So to is a desire on the part of the mentor to see the mentee succeed. But I would take it one step further – the mentor has to wish the mentee to succeed without gain to the mentor (their success – in whatever area they select – has to be reward enough.

    All too often I see people in business try to establish the mentor/mentee relationship where part of their motivation is their own personal success or status (or worse, the creation of a “mini-me”. That, based on my experience, is just as bad as any of the corporate-forced mentorship programs I’ve encountered.

    If it isn’t offered out of a desire to see another grow and mature in their own way, the relationship will never succeed.

    Many more things to think about – thx. – Fred

    • Fred,
      Great point, one that we often assume or take for granted. In its best form you’re talking about what Steve Farber refers to as Greater Than Yourself Leadership. You’ll be missed tonight…thanks, Fred.

  5. I love this topic Lisa because mentoring has played such a critical role in my own professional journey and development. And as many others have stated, this relationship has been so fruitful because we have a mutual respect and admiration for each other.

    I also believe it’s so important that there’s a level of honesty with no apprehension to provide constructive feedback. I’ve always appreciated the enthusiasm my mentor had for sharing ideas and taking a personal interest in my development. This relationship makes me want to work harder and succeed. And even more importantly, I try to lead others by this example. After 15 years, I’m honored and privileged to be working in various capacities with this wonderful person.

    I’m disappointed to have missed the conversation tonight.

    • Thank you, Lisa – and you were genuinely missed. How wonderful to hear that you’ve had a mentor for 15 years – I think that’s incredibly inspiring! And you raise an important insight – how this person inspires you to want to work harder and succeed. I can absolutely relate to that – not wanting to let my mentor down and wanting to soar… Thank you for sharing your story here!

  6. My life has changed from powerful mentors. I have also mentored others. I’ve learned from both but have gotten more satisfaction from being a mentor. That’s what the research supports as well … it is the mentors who report the greatest satisfaction from the relationship.

    • Judy,

      It certainly reinforces the notion that we get more satisfaction from giving than we do from receiving… :)
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here – I really appreciate it!


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