The lifeline of my professional growth has centered around having incredible people in my life who can offer wise counsel on personal and professional obstacles. And as I grow in my professional journey, I’ve learned that not many people understand the value of mentors, the critical role they can play in your life, and the work you have to put in to make it a fruitful relationship.
For individuals like me, who sit at the intersection of being black and being a woman, mentorship has been the very foundation to navigating professional hurdles like unconscious bias and “the glass ceiling”. It can help you outsmart the competition or avoid common mistakes that others have learned from.
Let’s start by defining what a mentor really is:
an experienced and trusted adviser
You seek their guidance or advice on personal and professional circumstances. While a coach offers domain expertise on specific situations or circumstances, mentors offer limitless advice to help you achieve your goals. I like to think of mentors as role models.
FINDING YOUR PERFECT MATCH
It’s important to note that finding a good mentor takes time (maybe even years). You will want to ‘interview’ your potential mentor to understand who they are and how they give advice. Through coffee chats or the like, you will unpack their professional prowess and the way they make decisions. You may also want to get a feel for if they are mentoring others or being mentored themselves. (In my journey, I’ve found that those who aren’t being mentored, typically don’t understand what true mentorship has looked like. That’s a major red flag, so beware!)
POPPING THE QUESTION
Assuming you’ve found a good candidate, you’re likely ready to ask the big question. And if you get nervous like me, it’s generally accompanied by a big lump in your throat and a very shaky hand. Being nervous is normal. After all, this is a huge question!
Ask cautiously. Going into the discussion, be sure that you understand that mentorship takes a lot of time. And many of the best mentors may already have mentees and don’t have the bandwidth to take on more. Don’t be afraid of rejection!
Highlight why they’re the right person for you. I’ve found it useful to explain why I want them to be my mentor. Sharing what you’ve observed and admired about them and providing specific details will signal that you’re serious about this.
Be clear about the ask. Proactively provide details on your desired meeting cadence and how much of their time you are requesting. Seasoned mentors likely have a specific framework that they operate within but having your own thoughts about it can be helpful, too.
BEING AN EFFECTIVE MENTEE
One fatal mistake that mentees often make is assuming that mentorship is a one-sided relationship. After asking the big question, most mentees often sit back and wait for sound advice to just pour into their cup. *Insert obnoxious buzzer here*
Having served as both a mentor and a mentee, I can confidently say that the role of the mentee is the most labor intensive in my opinion. You have to put in a ton of prep work into every conversation in order to yield high impact results. You get out of it what you put in!
To be an effective mentee, consider:
- Drafting your goals and desired outcomes.
- Preparing for every meeting and sending an agenda in advance.
- After each meeting, share your notes and action items.
- Plan ahead by securing a date for next meeting.
- Again, finding the perfect mentor takes time. Be patient and prioritize finding the right people.
- Consider balancing the advice by having two mentors.
- Just like you grow out of a wardrobe, it is expected that you will outgrow your mentor. That’s ok! When that day comes, be honest and gracious. They will appreciate your honesty and the impact they’ve had on your growth.
- Mentorship isn’t just situational therapy. Healthy relationships meet on a regular cadence to maintain rapport and drive stronger alignment.