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Mentees need to be able to act on the advice of their mentor.

Marcus Clackson/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you've asked someone to be your mentor you should be open to feedback and be a good listener – and also be ready to follow at least some of your mentor's advice, new research says.

Mentees should also be respectful of their mentor's valuable time, which means they must arrive promptly for meetings and be fully prepared.

But mentors and mentees also need the ability to end their relationship if it's not working, the study said.

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"Successful mentorship is vital to career success and satisfaction for both mentors and mentees," said Dr. Sharon Straus, a researcher at St. Michael's Hospital and author of the paper published online in Academic Medicine.

In a release, Dr. Straus said she examined mentor-mentee relationships at two large academic health centres, the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, where she is director of the geriatric medicine division.

While Dr. Straus's qualitative study on mentoring, which included participants from both Canada and the United States, focused on teaching hospitals, many of her findings could easily apply to mentor-mentee relationships in other professions.

Dr. Straus's research identified five key ingredients for a successful mentoring relationship: reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connections and shared values.

The reasons why some mentor-mentee relationships failed included poor communication, a lack of commitment, personality differences, perceived or real competition, conflicts of interest and the mentor's inexperience.

Faculty members interviewed for the study said mentees need to take their mentors' advice seriously. While mentees don't have to follow every bit of advice, if they ignore the bulk of it then the relationship isn't productive.

On the flip side, mentees said that good mentors were honest, trustworthy and active listeners. These mentors were engaged listeners during sessions, focused on the issues raised by the mentee and helped the mentee set specific goals.

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Good mentors also had a strong network a mentee could benefit from in order to advance in their career as well as find ways to improve their work-life balance. Mentors also helped mentees avoid potential pitfalls.

"One of the key challenges for mentors and mentees is a lack of time and participants stated that the effective mentors ensured that they remained accessible to their mentees even if they were located at a distance," Dr. Straus said. "Although they may not be able to meet in person regularly, effective mentors used e-mail and phone contact to ensure accessibility."

As a result of her studies, Dr. Straus recommends organizations include training programs that promote effective mentoring skills. Earlier studies have shown that university faculty members who had a positive mentorship experience were able to gain more research grants and publish more work than non-mentored colleagues. They were also promoted more quickly and were more likely to continue to work at their particular institution.

However, what should you do if the mentor-mentee relationship simply is not working?

Dr. Straus said a mentor-mentee pair can use a mentorship facilitator, the department chair or other leader as a mediator if the relationship isn't working. And there should be a "no-fault divorce" option that allows either side to end the relationship, Dr. Straus said.

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