The importance of having mentors is well established. I have had various mentors through my career and have assembled an "advisory board" to help me navigate my professional path when it's needed. These individuals have been extremely valuable in helping me get from where I am to where I want to be.
A lot of advice focuses on how to find the right mentor and how to structure that relationship. Those things are important, but there is a little secret that often goes unsaid when it comes to the mentor-mentee relationship.
It's this: Mentoring should be useful to both parties involved.
We often think about mentorship from the perspective of the mentee and what a mentor can offer him or her. But really, to foster a good relationship with a mentor, you, the mentee, need to offer your mentor value too. Mentorship is a two-way relationship. When I give this advice, people sometimes feel worried because they wonder what they could possibly offer a mentor. There's no need for concern though.
Here are two things you can do for a mentor that they are sure to appreciate:
1. Give credit.
This is the simple, easiest thing -- say thank you.
Yes, say the words and acknowledge the person, but the more specific and personal you can make your thank you, the more sincere it will feel and the more it will resonate. Depending on the situation, you might want to find different ways to express your gratitude to your mentor.
Also, as appropriate, find opportunities to publicly thank and credit your mentor. This could be when you receive a recognition of some sort or even just in individual conversations.
Again, being specific here goes a long way. Talk about what you have learned from your mentor or how their leadership style has influenced you in order to give back for the time they have invested in your success.
2. Share your unique perspective.
One reason why people enjoy mentoring younger workers is because it helps them stay in touch with younger perspectives. Share your observations and relevant thinking patterns amongst people in your age group -- social media is an easy example.
As social media has been a way of life for many, not everyone understands the ins and outs of it or how to best utilize it if it's not second nature to them. Or if there is a new show or podcast or movie that a lot of your peers are talking about, you could tell them about that. It doesn't have to be only focused on work -- leaders like to understand how young people think and it helps them to be more relatable to their younger team members.
If you do work in the same organization as your mentor, he or she is likely to appreciate if you give them upward feedback or a view from how leadership looks from your level. Leaders so often don't have a real sense of what employees really think, and a good leader is likely to appreciate this kind of candid feedback. You are uniquely positioned to have your ear to the ground and provide real soundbites so they can improve their leadership or perceptions of their leadership as well.
Finding a mentor is just one part of the equation. In order to have a long last relationship that will benefit you through different stages of your career, try thinking about how you can provide value to the relationship and what you bring to the table.
Keep finding opportunities for this and you are sure to become a mentee that people will be rushing to work with and be top of mind for leadership roles when they arise.