If you find yourself feeling adrift, struggling to make the right decisions in your career and personal life, and lacking in trusted advisers, you should not feel alone, as there is a good reason.
Through an extended period in history, two and three generations lived and worked together in tribes, villages, and urban communities. Younger people had a lifelong extended-family ecosystem, working alongside other adults on the hunt, around the campfire, in fields, shops, and factories. Apprenticeships, guilds, and unions in more recent centuries gave younger generations consistent exposure to senior influence. People were born, worked, and died within the same community.
Those dynamics no longer exist. The increase in young people pursuing highly mobile jobs in areas such as finance, technology, and consulting has led to a decrease in relational stability. Successful young leaders no longer live near family or family networks.
41% of surveyed millennials have moved to a new city without intending to settle down in their new location permanently. According to a 2016 Gallup report, over half of the millennial generation expects to work somewhere else in a year.
Further, a recent study by Harvard Business School indicates that increased remote work will become a normal part of work and life, with 16% of employees permanently working from home. These changes are dramatically reshaping one of the main places you find mentors and friends—the workplace. The consistent relationships that organically led to mentoring have disappeared.
This happens just when mentoring is needed most, because of the increasingly complex world facing younger generations today. A good mentoring partnership can provide you a competitive edge in your career, more stability in your relationships, and greater perspective on life purpose. A mentor can share wisdom from their own story. One well-known proverb reminds us, “If you want to know the road ahead, ask the people coming back.” A mentor can offer you advice on navigating challenges in your work life, give you access to a larger network, and help you make intelligent and balanced decisions.
Once you find someone who has the potential to be a mentor, how do you set yourself up for success as a great mentee? In my 25 years as a mentor, I am convinced the following four practices help turn a subpar mentee into an excellent mentee.
Ask good questions. Mentors have years of experience to share, but unless you ask good questions, you will miss out on much of it. Take time to consider what you want to learn from your mentor, what you would like to know more about, and areas of weakness. Preparing great questions will set you apart from the average mentee.
Plan an agenda for each meeting. It needs to be neither formal nor long, but setting a topic and agenda for every session with your mentor will ensure you address areas of business or life you are interested in and will keep you and your mentor focused.
Develop a portfolio of mentors. Expecting one person to mentor you in all areas of life is unrealistic. Holding onto a small group of mentors will ensure you receive the expertise and advice you need at work, in relationships, and other areas of life.
Make sure to express gratitude. Outstanding mentees thank their mentors in creative and thoughtful ways. Emails are always appreciated, but I have also noted that great mentees write handwritten personal cards, send flowers to their mentor’s spouse, or offer to help the mentor’s child with schoolwork or internships. These will differentiate you from your peers and foster a strong relationship between you and your mentor.
Rising mobility, busier lifestyles, and less intergenerational interaction mean mentoring no longer happens organically. These changes necessitate more intentionality on the part of both mentors and mentees. Purposefully distinguishing yourself as a mentee will ensure you benefit the most from this unique and life-giving relationship.
Rick Woolworth is a 35-year Wall Street veteran, who now focuses his time on mentoring emerging leaders through Telemachus, a nonprofit he founded in 2010. Jane Grizzle is a board member of Telemachus and a writer whose work focuses on mentoring and nonprofit advancement.