Mentorship is not about you.
This may seem counterintuitive, but let's explore why. Mentorship is the most significant predictor of career success, all other variables (such as education level, ambition level, industry) held equal, so you certainly have a lot to gain. But a successful mentorship relationship is mutually beneficial.
Here at Levo, we have seen thousands of mentorship relationships - enough to identify best practices, and identify behaviors to absolutely avoid in cultivating mentorship relationships. One of the biggest complaints we hear across the board from mentors and from senior executives who we engage with at Levo is that they dedicate their time paying it forward and cultivating the next generation of leaders, only to feel that they aren’t really being listened to and appreciated once whatever transaction they have helped to accelerate, solve, or facilitate, is complete.
To illustrate this, one of our mentors recently expressed that he received 8 to 10 emails a month from concerned parents asking him to help them identify the best public schools they should send their children to (he is an education expert), and asking him to meet for coffee and introduce them to the principals and other decision makers at this school. He is passionate about education, and always makes time for these requests. But once the child is successfully placed, he never hears from the parents or the child again, nor does he always even get a pingback that the child has been successful thanks to his help.
Building mentorship is about identifying opportunities to give to the people you seek to build bridges with, and to do so in a way that authentically and respectfully rewards them for their time and creates a dynamic of mutual surprise and delight. Here's how:
When you are looking to build a relationship with any mentor, specificity is your friend:
Do your homework to understand your potential mentor (take the time to thoroughly explore their digital presences and learn about them).
Be clear in your communication, whether it be through a question that can open the relationship or a direct email asking for 5 to 10 minutes to speak. What is it that you specifically seek to offer them? How are the two of you similar? Do you see a passion in them that you want to learn from? Do they possess a talent that has been a professional development opportunity for you?
"My name is Caroline and I would love to grab a coffee sometime" is not clear enough—why? And better yet, what can you help that person with?
Time is everyone's most valuable asset. Never waste your mentor's time, and when your mentor generously shares their time with you, never assume that there is such a thing as too much gratitude.
Gratitude doesn’t just mean sending a "thank you so much for taking the time" email immediately after you meet or speak with the person. It starts there.
One of the most important things you can do to express gratitude is play back what you heard in the interaction and the next steps that you learned and that you are committed to that come out of it. The person who has dedicated their most precious resource to you wants to know that they were heard, and wants to know that you have skin in the game and have committed to next steps. This is particularly important the greater the experience level difference between you and the person you are engaging with—you want to make things as clear, easy, and immediate feedback/gratification driven as you can.
Using whatever organizational system floats your boat, ensure that when one of your aforementioned next steps is completed and/or when you tactically implement a recommendation that came out of one of your mentorship conversations, you send them an email:
"Fran, thank you again so much for your thought partnership on our content strategy—I wanted to share with you that we are now launching the new franchise we brainstormed together. Attached is a sneak preview."
Remind them of the impact that their time has had on your trajectory, as this might be the dopamine hit that brightens their day and makes their dedication worthwhile.
Caroline Ghosn is co-founder and CEO of Levo, the largest and fastest-growing professional network for women in the first ten years of their careers, and one of our Most Creative People in Business. Follow Levo or Caroline on Twitter and ask Caroline any follow-up questions or provide feedback on her mentorship profile.