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This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

It's generally assumed that, in order for people to be successful in their careers, they need a mentor.

Companies are increasingly adopting formalized mentorship programs as a way of increasing employee retention and improving workplace productivity. In fact, 71 per cent of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their employees, according to Chronus Corp., a Washington-based career-management software company. As the importance of mentorship becomes a larger focus for companies, how can employees leverage this to climb the corporate ladder?

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For protégés, mentoring relationships offer a number of benefits:

The opportunity to grow personally and professionally by benefiting from the experiences of those who have gone before;

Increased knowledge and expertise for skill development;

The expansion of their professional networks;

And yet, research on formal mentorship programs suggests a limited impact on career mobility.

The sole purpose of a mentoring partnership should not be about career advancement. Why? Because career advancement can't be guaranteed. There are many factors that influence one's ability to move up the ladder, some beyond an individual's control.

So, is it even worth the effort to establish a mentorship relationship? Based on my own experience, both as a mentor and protégé, the answer is yes. But you need to be realistic about your objectives, and what you hope to accomplish through the relationship.

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I've mentored many people over the years, and my experience has been mixed. Those protégés who get the most out of the partnership recognize that it can play an indirect role in helping them to achieve career success by building skills and confidence. Those who believe that the relationship will directly contribute to a promotion or salary increase are ultimately disappointed.

The benefits of a mentorship are primarily attitudinal in nature. They can effect a change in attitude, such as job satisfaction; behaviour, such as job performance; or motivation, such as career commitment. So, before you rush to check off "find a mentor" on your career goal list, ask yourself why it is that you need a mentor.

Do you want to build or expand your professional network?

Do you want to enhance your leadership skills?

Are you looking to develop your problem-solving abilities?

Do you want to facilitate better communication among your colleagues?

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Are you seeking new perspectives?

Are you trying to figure out how to navigate your company's corporate culture?

If you've answered yes to any or all of those questions, you're looking for a mentor for all of the right reasons. Remember these questions when seeking out an appropriate mentor. A mentor can have a major impact on your professional development, but it's just one aspect – and there's no guarantee it will get you into the corner office.

Lisa Kimmel (@lisakimmel) is general manager of Edelman Toronto (@EdelmanTO). Edelman (@EdelmanPR) is the world's largest public relations firm. Lisa has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada by the Women's Executive Network.

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