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Mentoring increasingly has become part of the job for CFOs and other senior healthcare financial executives, many of whom regard serving as mentors as a way to give something back to their profession. Mentors serve as role models to junior staff members to help develop and guide them and teach them an industry's unspoken rules. Mentoring largely focuses on issues of career advancement, professional manners and style, and personal poise and appearance that can gain junior staff members acceptance by colleagues and business contacts at the most senior level.

Serving as an effective mentor demands time, skill, and commitment to the important aspects of the mentoring process, which begins with selecting a candidate and continues with setting goals, assisting with career development planning, maintaining reciprocity, advising on personal style and habits, relinquishing sponsorship of the occasional refractory candidate, and concluding the mentoring process. Selecting a candidate. One may wait to be asked to mentor a junior professional, or one may take a proactive role in identifying a candidate to mentor. Either way, one should exercise care in choosing whom to mentor because both individuals' careers will become associated through the relationship. It is customary but not necessary that both persons work in the same organization. The mentored individual should be talented, capable, ambitious, and willing to be "polished." Although rising stars of the finance department may appear to be the logical candidates to mentor, many managers who quietly perform well would welcome friendly counsel that can help them develop their executive skills.

Setting goals. Many senior executives find it useful to establish goals for the mentoring relationship at the outset. Expectations on both sides should be clarified through candid discussion. Exchanging lists of prioritized goals can serve as a vehicle for this discussion because both participants should agree on the milestones to be used to measure progress.

Assisting career development planning. Effective mentors should introduce the junior professionals they are sponsoring to situations that broaden their experience, increase their confidence, and offer them exposure to top-level decision-making processes and leaders. Such situations can include participation in key meetings and undertaking important tasks, such as sensitive contract negotiations. The mentor also may introduce the junior professional to distinguished colleagues or suggest that he or she attend specific workshops or courses.

Maintaining reciprocity. Some mentors and junior professionals meet on a formal, regular basis, whereas others keep contacts informal and casual, depending on time constraints and the personalities of the individuals involved. If the relationship is to be successful, however, the junior professional's career aspirations and commitment should be the drivers. Sometimes personal concerns on either side (illness, accidents, changes in family relationships) temporarily can overshadow the relationship. When such circumstances affect the junior professional, a thoughtful mentor will step aside until the mentored individual can focus once more on career issues.

Advising on personal style and habits. Attention to personal details matters, particularly for an individual who aspires to a senior position in an organization. Therefore, the mentored individual who requires improvement in personal areas should be told so. Tactful conversations about personal matters, such as appearance and annoying habits, may be easier if an atmosphere of trust and cooperation has been established at the outset of the relationship.

Concluding the mentoring process. Some individuals end the mentoring relationship after a few months; others stay in touch for a lifetime. Ideally, each party will know when the junior professional is ready to accept new challenges that fall outside the scope of the relationship. Despite a natural sense of loss, both parties can enjoy the feeling of achievement, and the effective mentor can appreciate having made a genuine contribution to the future of healthcare financial management.

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