Great mentors provide just the right advice or perspective to help you navigate political landmines and do so consistently, often on a moment's notice. They put your needs before their own, always willing to pick up the phone or respond to your email even if they're swamped with their own work. So why does their greatness cause potential problems for you as a mentee?
Based on my unscientific research, there is a high positive correlation between those who are great mentors and their own individual career success. Because they are often selfless, that means the time they spend mentoring you is time they could be spending managing their own work projects and deadlines or relaxing on the back porch with their family. That time drain might not be a problem in small doses, but if you don't successfully manage your mentor/mentee relationship you could be monopolizing his or her time and inadvertently impact his or her professional and personal life.
Along those same lines, as a mentee you can unintentionally build up a dependency on your mentor. Because they always offer sound advice, it's easy to want to get his or her perspective first before thinking through issues on your own. As a facilitator stated during a recent training session I attended "they (mentors) aren't an IT help desk." I know it's up to the mentor to manage those boundaries, but it's equally important for you to make sure you build structure around the mentor/mentee relationship that includes clearly defined expectations on the frequency and nature of your interactions.
Great mentors are like star athletes and as such, they known commodities within their business unit, organization, or industry. As a result, there's a pretty good chance you aren't the only one seeking their perspective—something to consider before you enter their phone numbers into your speed dial. Realize that they have their own career issues and work assignments to navigate as well as helping other informal or formal mentees. Make sure you set clear expectations up front on the frequency and nature of your interactions. Finally, don't put all of your mentee eggs in one basket—seek input and guidance from more than one trusted source. Doing so will also give you multiple perspectives and that's usually never a bad thing.
Shawn Graham is the author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com). Find Shawn on Twitter @ShawnGraham or via email at shawn(at) courtingyourcareer.com.