Whether you've never had one before or you've heard horror stories from friends, it's natural to be a little skeptical of the whole mentor-mentee thing, especially if you're familiar with the competitive business world.
Somehow--by fate or circumstance--you're supposed to meet a successful, experienced entrepreneur who just happens to want to chitchat about your ideas for hours each week and has the time and inclination to do so?
In a climate where there's no free lunch, it's easy to assume there's a hidden catch. But if you feel this way, it's because you don't understand how mentorship helps your mentor. Did you know that training and advising mentees is a powerful way for your mentor to gain leadership skills and team-building experience? And that mentees often help their mentors understand things in new ways through feedback, communication, and interpersonal skills?
The most satisfied mentees are the ones who recognize that every meeting has the potential to help their mentors advance their own careers, too. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure that reciprocal value gets created, including the following:
- Build a Reciprocal RelationshipResearch shows that people put more into relationships when they share common values and personalities. If you suspect your mentor isn't getting anything out of your relationship, it might be because you're asking her to chat up a brick wall or it's simply not a good fit.Work toward making your relationship reciprocal by asking insightful, personal questions, sharing personal stories of your own, and offering to help whenever possible. At the very least, spring for lunch every once in a while. Do everything you can to make sure your relationship is a two-way street, and you'll uncover a much more animated, energetic mentor.
- Know Your RoleUnderstanding each person's expectations is a key ingredient in relationship building, and the mentor-mentee relationship is no exception. Each party needs to understand her role in the relationship and approach the conversation with that attitude.For example, if your mentor prefers to offer straightforward coaching, it's up to you to adjust your expectations and be flexible and responsive to her advice. This give and take allows both individuals to contribute to (and benefit from) the relationship.
- Don't Shy Away From Your ExpertiseYour mentor knows that you have expertise outside of her wheelhouse. Don't shy away from this fact in an effort to protect her feelings. Playing dumb will only make you a bad mentee. For example, if you're a Millennial mentee partnered with a baby boomer mentor, you might be able to provide insight into up-and-coming tech trends that could prove valuable to her. It's that give and take (more emphasis on the give) that will make the relationship between the two of you stand out.
- Take Advice and Offer FeedbackWhen your mentor invests time in your relationship and offers you advice, it's wise to consider taking it if it makes sense to do so. There's nothing worse than a mentee who listens, ignores, and doesn't even follow up on practical advice that's offered to her.If you're on the receiving end of advice, it's up to you to implement it and keep your mentor updated on how those strategies are working out. If you don't plan to take the advice, stand up for yourself and explain your thinking. This deeper discussion might help your mentor understand your position, or it might expose a misunderstanding that was preventing you from embracing the idea. Who knows? It might even reveal a better idea.
If you're skeptical about why a mentor would want to partner with a mentee, it may be because you don't have a plan in place to make it worth her while. Figure out what you have to offer your mentor, and do everything you can to provide that value. It's how you'll build a reciprocal, mutual relationship that benefits you both in the long term.