I’m fortunate to have been mentored in many settings. I simply wouldn’t be where I am without those experiences. Not every relationship was perfect, but each provided important lessons, some the hard way.
To me, there are three big ideas to keep in mind for anyone setting out to find mentorship. These are approaches that will make sure you are respectfully maximizing what your mentor has to offer.
Great mentees are confident in their relationships with their mentor. Having confidence in the mentorship takes several forms. It means being willing to take any issue to their mentor. Good mentorships are built on the belief that no question is a bad one if the mentee is truly trying to learn and grow and the mentor is truly there to help them do so.
Great mentees need the confidence to try things and fail in the process. No growth happens without stretching. Mentees also need the confidence to trust their mentors. Mentees can grow profoundly if they trust that their mentor is faithfully in their corner and a source of good counsel.
Good mentorships also give mentees the confidence to disagree. Great lessons take place when mentor and mentee thoughtfully discuss an issue, the mentor provides guidance, but the mentee goes their own way after deliberation. Most big questions don’t have a single answer, and a great mentorship teaches a mentee to have confidence in their decision-making process, to act based on that process, and to learn from the outcomes.
A good mentorship requires a special bond. Not every pairing works. Mentees therefore need to be selective about their mentors. A good mentor may not be the person you are friends with, someone who works in your discipline, and certainly not the individual randomly assigned by your employer or school.
Mentees must own their relationship and search out a mentor whose personality and experiences help them grow. If an assigned mentor doesn’t work, walk away and find a better one. That shows respect for the mentor, too; nobody gets anything from a bad relationship.
Being selective can also mean looking to unexpected sources for mentorship or having multiple mentors for multiple purposes. Although my entire career has involved law and government, some of my best mentors have been in coaching, ministry, and other settings with nothing to do with my day job. What matters is finding someone you connect with who helps you unlock your potential. Look carefully and widely for those people, and then be very selective in taking them into your circle.
Mentees should always be thankful. Nobody is required to be a mentor. Almost by definition, people who become mentors have enough talent and interest that they could do other things with their time. Demonstrating thanks to your mentor by being prompt, respectful, engaged, prepared, curious, and enthusiastic goes a long way. It is a joy to mentor someone who brings these traits to the table. In fact, I have been reinvigorated by mentees, which is more thanks than I can ask.
Mentees can be thankful in two other ways. First, say “thank you” out loud. We can’t say it enough and it is always nice to hear. Second, become mentors to others. There is no better thanks to offer your mentor than to become a mentor yourself.
I treasure all the mentorship experiences I’ve had because those conversations have informed my personal and professional journeys in important ways. The investment you are inviting from a mentor should be handled with care. You are asking them to speak into an important area of your life, so treat this relationship seriously — it has the power to transform you.