This week Wall Street lost one of its true masters: Jimmy Lee, vice chairman of JP Morgan. I lost a friend and a treasured mentor.
Recounting the few short years I knew Jimmy made me think deeply about what it means to have a mentor and how that relationship can profoundly change you. Many people wonder how you find a good mentor and how you continue to nurture that relationship. Finding a mentor is difficult, especially for young people, because you're requesting valuable time of someone. There's no clear answer: Nobody can dial up 1-800-Mentor-Me. These friendships tend to grow organically as mine did with Jimmy. But here are a few ways you can turn a chance meeting into a deeper relationship:
1. Remember mentoring is a two-way street.
It might not sound like rocket science but keep in mind that your mentor has to get some, if not as much, out of the relationship as you. It has to be enjoyable. They have to like spending time with you and not feel like it's a chore. How do you do this? It can be as simple as you being a good listener or a good source of information-spend time to send this person interesting articles relevant to his/her career or business. People appreciate that you care. Jimmy used to say it was fun to talk on the phone, that's why he'd call me back. Mentoring is a friendship and if you approach it from the idea of what you can give that person, you will create a better connection.
2. Trust is key.
There's two kinds of trust here. The first trust is simply never betraying your mentor's confidence. Whatever he/she tells you privately should never leave the room - I promise you it will backfire. The second form is best described as "trustiness" - are you someone who will actually follow up on what you say? Will you really email the contact you've been given? Will you do those three things your mentor asked you to do? If you don't, you'll be considered unreliable and untrustworthy. Doing so will result in a distinct lack of interest from your mentor, pronto. Don't do it.
3. Be yourself.
Drop this in the category of "easy to say, hard to do." Believe me, I know. As a child of immigrant parents, I was always taught to revere my elders and treat them with the utmost respect. That works when you're 12, but not when you're 30. I had to "unlearn" some of these habits through the years and punch through that wall of politeness. People appreciate being able to let their hair down and talk casually, even if that person is very senior to you. They want to see what you're really like and hear your true thoughts and opinions. This is also important when you interview for a job. Being as genuine as possible is the easiest way to foster a connection. It's always awkward meeting someone for the first time, but the more you are yourself, the better the conversation will go.
The last thing I will say on mentors is it's not important how many of them you have, but the quality of your relationship with them. I can count in single digits the number of mentors I've had through the years but each relationship has helped make me a better person. Jimmy will be missed by thousands of people, many of whom shared much deeper connections than myself, not least of all his family, but at least I can say I was lucky to have had that one connection for myself.