By Melis Tusiray
We’ve all heard it before — mentoring is one of the biggest factors in professional success. And it’s not just hype: the research backs it up. But how do you make the most of your mentor-mentee relationships? Women, especially, often find themselves over-mentored and under-sponsored. What that means is that we get lots of advice from mentors — passive support — but significantly fewer introductions, interpersonal recommendations to mentors’ networks, and other forms of active support. While passive support is very important, active support is what helps us network, build social capital, learn different aspects of the business, and identify new growth opportunities. It is just as important as advice, if not more so. If you’ve read this far and have been thinking, “Oh man, I’m definitely over-mentored and under-sponsored!” then here are three practical tips to help you make the most of your mentor-mentee relationship and garner more active support.
1 - KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
One of the most frustrating things mentors say they experience when sitting down with a potential mentee is asking “How can I help you?” and getting the reply, “I don’t know, what do you think?” A mentor’s role is not to write your future for you — it’s to share in your vision for the future and to help provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to get there. While this doesn’t mean you need to have a life plan for the next 50 years, communicating with your mentor regarding how you’d like to grow and advance over at least the next five years will help them identify how they can best help you get there. Mentors know a lot, but not all of it will be relevant to your goals. Help them narrow the focus area so they can provide you with the information and support that’s most relevant to you and your goals.
2 - BE AUTHENTIC AND BRING YOUR "A-GAME"
Mentors are more likely to believe in you, trust you, and sponsor you if you are authentic and always performing at your absolute best. When mentors give passive support such as advice, they’re not really putting anything of their own on the line. They give you advice, and then you both go on your merry ways. When they give you active support, they’re also putting their own reputation at stake because they’re the ones who brought you in. How you behave and how you perform in that situation reflects not only on you, but also on your mentor. Therefore, when you start asking mentors for active support, they need to be able to trust that you will perform in a way that reflects well on both of you. They simply aren’t going to take the risk if they don’t believe you can deliver.
3 - ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED
You should know what you need when you go to talk to your mentor. Is it just insights? Is it an introduction to a specific person or company? Ask your mentor for specific, focused support, because even if you know what you want, unless your mentor is a mind- reader (in which case, can you introduce us? I have a few business propositions for them...) you have to request the type of support you’re seeking. While being so direct can be a very scary prospect for some mentees, mentors would much rather have you ask politely for what you need than leave them guessing about how they can best help you.
If nothing else, remember that moving from passive to active support requires the mentee to play an active role, engaging with the mentor in a focused and intentional way. By implementing these tips, you can begin to shift your approach and create the relationships you need in order to build the career you want.