In business, lots of people are encouraged to find their mentors. And there are many advice columns about how to be a good mentor. But what about the mentee? What’s their ownership in the relationship? Many people don’t realize that the mentee is not just supposed to receive, but is responsible for reciprocation as well.
Over the years, I’ve built up a network of mentors that come from diverse backgrounds and careers. They are entrepreneurs, community leaders, diplomats, philanthropists, industry leaders, and venture capitalists. With most of my mentors, I can send an email or call with a question and I’ll get their advice back within a day.
How did we build this repertoire? Like most relationships, it takes time and effort. For the last decade, I’ve been deeply invested in developing genuine connections with people whom I personally admire.
The great news is that nothing I did was rocket science. With a little bit of effort, you could build your pool of mentors too. To be successful at this, you’ll have to do your due diligence. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
Research Your Mentor
Google their name. Read through news articles featuring their work. Peruse their bio on their company’s website. Look up their profile on LinkedIn. Most people appreciate talking with someone who took the time to understand their background. And we’re all susceptible to a bit of flattery. If you’re impressed by one aspect of what they’ve done, tell them! Don’t gush or run-on about it. While your words of affirmation can be a great opener, it shouldn’t be the crux of the conversation.
Begin with Small, Concise Asks
It’s ok to make an ‘ask’ of your mentor early on in that relationship. Just make sure it’s a small, concise ask. Sometimes my ask of a new mentor will be a very specific question on which I’m seeking their input. People love being asked for advice, so long as it’s not time intensive or intrusive. In fact, small asks at the beginning are a great way to grow and build confidence in that connection. Small investments of their time and energy in a younger or less experienced person’s career can be very rewarding for a mentor. These can, over time, even lead to larger investments such as business introductions or recommendations once trust has been established.
This is perhaps the most important aspect of the mentoring relationship. Be sure to follow-up with the mentor. If they gave you advice on a situation, let them know how following their advice worked out. Even if it didn’t go well, still give them the benefit of knowing what happened as a result. As humans, we’re naturally curious. It can be very vexing for a mentor who is investing energy in providing feedback and not getting the basic satisfaction of finding out how a situation turned out for the mentee.
There are multiple ways a mentee can express gratitude towards a mentor. One is through words of affirmation. Write a truthful LinkedIn recommendation on how this leader has helped shape your career trajectory. A personalized note on a thick stock thank you card can have a similar effect. At a business gathering, introduce your mentor with a brief, genuine attribution of their guidance.
You can also thank a mentor with a small gift as a token of appreciation. I knew that one of my mentors enjoyed hosting social gatherings. So, during a trip to India I commandeered a limited-edition bottle of liquor. I knew he would appreciate its authenticity and sharing this luxury with friends at his next soiree.
In conclusion, by being conscious of the special relationship that exists between a mentor and a mentee, it is possible to build a network of mentors. The benefits to your career – as well as your own personal growth through their wisdom and guidance – are well worth the effort.
Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.