How to Get More from Your Mentor
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
A senior publishing executive at William Morris once told me how baffled she was when an aspiring literary agent asked her to be a mentor. She looked at me and said, “She’s got to make me want to be her mentor. Isn’t she supposed to do something for me?” The answer is a definitive yes.
A mentor can prove invaluable when it comes to providing insight into your organization, inside information about the politics of the place, or just some over-the-shoulder advice about who to work with and who to stay away from. Mentorship, however, is a two-way street — and you’ve got to figure out how to repay the favor and make the relationship work for both of you.
We’re all busy. Like you, your mentors have competing demands on their time and resources. It’s not hard for them to let mentorship fall by the wayside when they’re closing a deal, bringing a new product to market or putting out the next fire with an important client. That’s why you — as the mentee — have got to make your mentor’s investment in you worth their time and energy.
Here are four ways you can provide value to your mentor:
- Send “TOUs” or thinking of yous Share articles of interest or relevant news stories. Keep your mentor’s projects and areas of influence on your radar so that you can weigh in periodically on thought-provoking topics. You can even set up Google alerts on her key clients to make sure you’re the first to see breaking news — then pass it along and make sure she’s “in the know” too.
- Provide insight into the rank and file of your organization By definition, you are more junior (in terms of age or experience) than your mentor. Senior leaders often feel out of touch with the cubicle culture and lack meaningful interaction with the front lines of their organization. You may be able to share reactions of your peers to a new corporate policy or change in organizational structure. Giving your mentor feedback or insight into employee morale is a great way to give back.
- Help with extra-curricular activities. Perhaps your mentor does a lot of college recruiting for the firm or runs a leadership development program for women. Why not offer to accompany her on a recruiting trip, sift through resumes in advance or bring her ideas of guest speakers for the leadership program?
- Buy ’em lunch. At the very least, if you really struggle to find ways to add value, take your mentor to lunch or dinner. Even if your mentor tries to foot the bill, be firm and generous in your offer. Let your mentor know that you appreciate his help and it’s your pleasure to be able to return the favor in some small way. A nice glass of wine or good steak goes a long way toward building good will.