Ajay Pattani is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Chicago and founder (and reigning ping pong champion) of Perfect Search Media, a digital marketing agency. Ajay has experience as a mentee, a mentor, and also as an accountability coach within EO's Accelerator program. We asked him what makes mentoring relationships thrive. Here's what he had to say.

Over the years, I've been fortunate to enjoy both formal and informal mentoring relationships that have helped me identify and set measurable goals, experience personal growth and hone leadership skills. In addition to meaningful one-on-one relationships, I've also been involved in more structured mentorship programs.

When I reflect on the scope of my mentorship relationships, from unofficial to official and from mentee to mentor, I can't help but think how invaluable they are to my success as an entrepreneur and as an individual. Mentoring provides an incredible method for acquiring insights into your own goals and business practices, establishing personal accountability, building your professional network and gaining invaluable experience.

I recall years ago thinking that experience is often overrated. Looking back, I realize that I thought that because I didn't have much experience.

To maximize mentorship relationships and their outcomes, here are some key parameters to ponder.

1. Consider compatibility

The most successful pairings are based on an honest assessment of requisite strengths and weaknesses of both mentor and mentee. For mentorship relationships to be fruitful and lasting, it's always recommended that the mentee's designated area for improvement align with the mentor's points of strength.

Of course, mentors can have weaknesses, too. Nobody's perfect. (Not even the guy who named his company Perfect Search.)

2. Prioritize quality over quantity

If you're involved in a mentorship program, this is a critical parameter. The quality of the relationships should matter as much as the quantity of mentorships, if not more.

Otherwise, if the main goal is simply pairing up as many twosomes as possible, other significant aspects of the relationships?such as aligning strengths and weaknesses?will surely suffer. While the number of pairings can provide a measurable benchmark, the focus of any mentorship program should shift from the total number of pairings to an emphasis on the total value gained from the pairings.

3. Match supply with demand

If you're considering joining a mentorship program, make sure that there are enough mentors to fulfill the demand from prospective mentees.

Otherwise, you'll face what could be a perplexing mismatch issue. Some participants may be happy, but others won't?simply due to a supply and demand discrepancy. If you're running a mentorship program, this is a common challenge you'll likely face at some point. While it's true that a single mentor may be able to foster more than one mentee, the risk of overcommitment and potential for a devalued experience increases with each additional mentee.

4. Communicate candidly

While mentorship relationships clearly differ from friendships, family ties or romantic relationships, they're still relationships. This means that regular communication is necessary to keep the connection healthy and fulfilling.

Some important objectives to establish at the outset of a mentor/mentee relationship include how often you'd like to communicate?and whether by email, phone or text; how often you'll meet in person; and how to incorporate each other in professional networking and other events to maximize opportunities.

Mentorship is a two-way street.

After engaging in a number of cherished mentoring relationships and then going on to help facilitate a mentorship program, one thing became clear to me. There's a popular underlying assumption that the mentee inherently gains value and that the mentor offers that value in any given mentorship relationship.

This assumption is inadequate in expressing the true bidirectional advantages of mentoring. The value of giving can often outweigh the value of receiving. Here are a few examples of how mentoring is equally as rewarding as "mentee-ing":

  • Mentors and mentees develop strong bonds that often extend into lifelong friendships.
  • Similar to entrepreneurial fulfillment, mentorship can lead to business growth and the creation of new jobs.
  • Mentorship is an advanced form of leadership and thus will improve this skill set.

Go forth and mentor!

I've learned throughout my years in entrepreneurship and mentorship that, first and foremost, if you have ever thought about being a mentor: just do it. It's a fantastically rewarding experience that will provide you with so much more than you ever expected.

Secondly, if you find yourself wanting a mentor, don't be afraid to ask. Reach out to people you admire or join a mentorship program.

Benjamin Disraeli expressed the value of mentorship more eloquently than I ever could: "The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own."