It takes a certain type of chemistry for a mentor-mentee relationship to work, new research finds.

A study by Sharon Straus, a researcher at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, revealed the five key ingredients necessary for a successful mentoring relationship: reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connections and shared values.

As part of her research, Straus examined the mentor-mentee relationships at two large academic health centers, the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. She found that good mentors were honest, trustworthy and active listeners who focused on the issues identified by the mentee.

In addition, top mentors have access to a network of colleagues and collaborators who can open doors for their mentees, help jump-start these protégés' careers or just explain how the system works.

"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," Straus said. "Although they may not be able to meet in person regularly, effective mentors used email and phone contact to ensure accessibility."

While Straus focused on teaching hospitals, she said many of her findings could apply to other professions.

The study revealed that, in addition to giving career advice, the best mentors helped their mentees achieve better work-life balance and warned pupils of potential pitfalls they may face.

Mentors, however only make up one part of the equation. The research shows that mentees need to do their part, too, in order to make the relationship a success.

Straus said people with a mentor should be active listeners who are open to feedback and respectful of their mentor's time. To show this, mentees should come to meetings prepared and on time.

In addition, mentees must be willing to take their mentors' advice seriously. Straus said protégés don't have to accept every word, but that ignoring most of the advice makes the relationship fruitless.

Straus points to previous studies, which have found that effective mentorship produces university faculty who are more productive, promoted more quickly and more likely to stay at their institutions. These results, she says, show the importance of positive mentoring.

"Successful mentorship is vital to career success and satisfaction for both mentors and mentees," she said.

The research found that failed mentor-mentee relationships were characterized by poor communication, lack of commitment, personality differences, perceived or real competition, conflicts of interest and inexperience on the part of the mentor.

Straus's study was recently published online in the journal Academic Medicine.

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