The Give and Take of a Successful Mentor Relationship

Do you have a mentor? A sponsor? Someone to encourage and guide you on your journey? If not, perhaps this article will provide insights and direction as to what that relationship might look like.

“No man is an island” and that is true for business woman seeking to make a difference in their field. Whether you are a professional on the track to be promoted within your company or an entrepreneur setting out on your own; mentors can provide a great number of benefits in the process.

However, you can’t just stand on a corner and ask everyone you meet, “Are you my mentor?”

are you my motherFor those who are fans of P.D. Eastman you may have just flashed back to the book “Are You My Mother?” in which a young bird, displaced from his nest, asks everyone he encounters, including a dog and an airplane, if they are his mother. It didn’t work for the bird and it won’t work for you.

Finding a mentor is a process that requires thoughtful evaluation because anyone who will want to be a support/cheer-leader for your professional career is business; therefore, you will need to consider how the relationship might benefit them as well.

In the article This is Why You Don’t Have a Mentor, the author, Ryan Holiday, talks about the process of finding the right mentor. He shares some insight into the process and the give and take necessary in a mentor/mentee relationship:

They are picking you because they think you’re worth their time and will benefit them too.

So figure out what you can offer them so that this can become a mutual, though lopsided, exchange. Executives, entrepreneurs, and creatives are always looking for the next big thing. They want to help you succeed because along the way you can help them. Even if it’s just energy you’re bringing, even if it’s just thanks and satisfaction. The mentor cannot want your success for you more than you want it for yourself. You better show up every day hungry and dedicated and eager to learn.

One suggestion that’s helped me: provide articles, links, or news that can benefit your mentors. You are less busy than they are, so your time is better spent looking and searching. Also by having other mentorships and pursuing my own interests on the side, I was able to be a source of new information, trends, and opportunities. I asked a lot, but I tried to give in return. 

Tracey Wallace shares her thoughts in the article Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a Mentor. She has this to say:

Look hard for a mentor and network as much as possible, but don’t make finding a mentor your primary focus.

She quotes another resource for further information on the search for a mentor:

“Good mentors will be hard to track down, and their time is extremely limited,” says Brett Hagler, cofounder of Hucksley, a marketplace for discovering one-of-a-kind brands. “Reach out creatively and always try to take the ‘backdoor’ approach by getting introduced through a mutual contact. Certain platforms such as LinkedIn allow you to have direct access to your targeted mentors. Always be creative on your specific ask and make it as relevant and direct as possible.”

Once you have made a connection with someone, make sure you understand the value of the relationship. Although they may never be a “best friend” they are involved in a critical part of your life. As you discover more about each other; their personal journey to success will often provide as much learning as anything additional they can tell you, you will come to find ways to help each other.

One of the women on the Purposeful Woman team is celebrating ten years as an independent business owner and refers to her mentor/business coach often.

“My mentor has been there since before I opened my doors and has encouraged me, held my feet to the fire and helped me step back and view my business from a grander scale. However, as time goes by, there have been pieces of knowledge that I have that benefit her business. Our relationship has become very much one of give and take; she continues to mentor me but now I have the opportunity to help her and her business growth as well.”

The University of Washington offers some great thoughts on the mentor relationship in a career development article on their website. They offer key elements of a successful mentorship:

  • Mutual respect.
  • Acceptance and flexibility.
  • Honesty and direct communication.
  • Preparation.
  • Commitment.
  • Some shared values.
  • Trust.
  • Willingness to work through obstacles.

A couple of these really jump out at me. There will be obstacles, just like any relationship, and you will need to work through them. A mentor may make business/career suggestions that are not in line with your purpose or your comfort zone. Being open and honest with your communication will help work through this obstacle.

If you are a mentor, you may become frustrated if the tasks your mentee commits to are not met. Be aware that if you seek the assistance and guidance from a mentor that there are certain responsibilities you will be expected to complete. If you consistently listen to advice but never follow the suggestions; your mentor may become disenchanted with the relationship.

Seeking a mentor for your professional journey is a process. They won’t fall out of the sky, however, you should be at least aware of those around you and how you might benefit each other.

Also, be aware of the fact that you may provide the same encouragement to someone just starting out in business. As they say, never look down upon another unless it is in the process of pulling them up! Mentoring goes both ways.