So many people claim they could get ahead if they only had the right mentor. They somehow think that just being in the presence of greatness will thrust greatness upon them as well. Mentorship is more than just having an advisory lunch every month. In reality, a successful mentor relationship requires careful consideration and cultivation.

The hardest part of making mentoring work is ensuring that the mentor is getting value. The more successful they are, the more precious their time; therefore, the less likely they will be to give it without demonstrated progress towards success. Remember that consistent and productive communication always remains the responsibility of the mentee. The quality of time and advice you receive will be exactly what you have earned with your diligence.

Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Create accountability.

Remind yourself that a mentor's time is not free. The actual time they spend with you is worth money, and the years of advice or area of expertise they are helping you with required significant investment on their part. The best way to show a mentor you appreciate this investment is to proactively walk away from a mentoring session with a list of actions to complete. If you find you "can never get around to" the work you have agreed to in your last meeting together, maybe you aren't in the right place to take advantage of what a mentor has to offer. Additionally, you can pay your mentor back by spending time understanding how they make money or what they may need. A referral to a potential opportunity is a great way to repay your mentor and show them you value their investment in you. Eric Holtzclaw, Lean Forward

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2. Buy them a lunch.

People love giving advice, especially if you ask in a way that acknowledges their expertise. One simple way to make it feel less uneven--and more convivial--is to treat your prospective mentor to a nice meal.

"I'd really like to learn more about X, and I see you have a lot of wisdom to share. Would you be available sometime for lunch so I can pick your brain?"

Before I left my job to start freelancing I did this with every freelancer I knew. They gave me hugely helpful advice, including how to write a good pitch. Since then I've paid it forward with other aspiring freelancers. Minda Zetlin, Start Me Up

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3. Establish guidelines.

Your mentor can guide you through the nuances of your industry, connect you with powerful resources, and offer unbiased opinions on your issues and ideas. The problem I often see is that mentees worry about imposing on their mentors, which diminishes the results. Avoid this concern by scheduling regular meetings and developing guidelines with your mentor regarding communication between meetings. If you have an urgent issue, would he or she prefer an email, phone call, text, or a knock on the door? Also remember that mentors get something back in this process. They develop and improve their leadership skills and yes, they learn from your actions and ideas too. Marla TabakaThe Successful Soloist

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4. Work in reverse.

Most company leaders are well aware of the power of mentoring--71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. What many leaders forget, however, is that there are more ways to skin the cat than the traditional model, where older employees serve as mentors to younger workers. Reverse mentoring--in which younger employees mentor older employees--can also be quite effective, especially when it comes to social media and the Internet. Understanding the power of reverse mentoring, some years ago former GE chairman and CEO Jack Welch required 500 of his top execs to find younger employees to mentor them on the ins and outs of e-business. Welch was himself mentored by a twentysomething woman, who taught him how to navigate the Internet. Peter Economy, The Management Guy

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5. It's all about structure and advance prep.

I've mentored many people and been blessed by having great mentors as well. Your mentor's time is super valuable, as is your time with him/her. The secret to a great relationship with your mentor is setting up a meeting structure in advance and sending notes to review and an agenda before each meeting. Meeting quarterly? Monthly? Set up the dates and times in advance, and be prepared ahead of time for each meeting with what you want to get out of it. Dave KerpenLikeable Leadership

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