Advice on how to be successful as a woman in the business world almost always includes finding a mentor. Many women treat this mission like a checklist item (Mentor? Check!), but being thoughtful and strategic about mentoring can be life-changing. Without the feedback that I’ve gotten from my own mentors, I wouldn’t be running Desk.com today. And it’s not just mentoring that can help you. Being a mentor to someone else can also be incredibly meaningful to your career. I’ve mentored a lot of people -- both men and women -- and they’ve helped me back in immeasurable ways. Here are six steps for getting the most out of both sides of the mentoring equation:
1. Make room in your calendar.
Mentee: This is the single most valuable thing you can do for your career, so you absolutely must make room in your calendar for mentoring sessions. And, let’s face it: Most mentors only have the bandwidth to meet with you once a month anyway. Surely it is worth an hour of your time and the price of a latte. As I've already said, mentoring has made all the difference in my own career.
Mentor: The time constraint can be overwhelming for busy people. How can they make time for something that doesn’t directly benefit them? The reality is that being a mentor makes you a better leader. It grounds you in reality and gives you a fresh perspective. And, frankly, in an environment that’s sometimes difficult for women, we need to help one other out. If nothing else, do it for the good karma.
2. Be open to feedback.
Mentee: The point of a mentor is to gain perspective on your career, ideally from someone not in your reporting chain. There’s no point in asking for input, though, if you aren’t open to receiving it. I’ve been told things that weren’t easy to hear (like needing to improve my presentation skills and wardrobe), but hearing them made a big difference in my career.
Mentor: Both the mentor and mentee can benefit by engaging on professional development. As the mentor and often the more senior person in the situation, you can benefit from the feedback about things happening in your company that you may have missed. Not to mention that mentoring helps you build an army of people that will have your back. Many of the amazing people on my team at Desk.com are people I mentored in the past.
3. Find the right people.
Mentee: A common misconception is that you need to find one mentor who can advise you on every aspect of your career. But you may need more than one. Take a hard look at the problem you want a mentor to help you solve, or at your desired professional growth area. Is it a career change? A promotion? The need to better adapt to the company culture? The most experienced mentor might be a man or a woman, outside your company or industry, younger or older. The mentor you choose should be the person or people who can best help you answer your pressing questions.
Mentor: Most senior leaders receive a lot of requests for mentoring and don’t have the ability to say yes every time. As a rule, invest time and energy in the people who have the potential to grow and will help you yourself grow into a better leader. Choose people you want in your “army” of supporters. Career coaching should be an ongoing activity as part of the normal performance review process, so don’t mentor people who work for you. Send employees to an outside mentor to gain diverse perspectives.
4. Be clear about what you want (and can give).
Mentee: Don’t just ask someone, “Will you be my mentor?” Be precise about the problem you need help with and what you want from a mentor. For example, you might ask someone to meet with you an hour each month to help improve your presentation skills. Or you might ask to have coffee once a month to help you research a career change. Mentors who know what the expectation is can be realistic about their ability to help.
Mentor: My own free time is incredibly valuable to me. I have a husband, two school-age kids and aging parents I want to spend time with. I’m a big supporter of mentoring, but I’ve learned that the quality of time you spend is more important than the quantity. Be upfront with people about the time you can commit -- whether that means weekly, monthly or quarterly coffee dates. If your prospective mentee has questions outside your area of expertise, the best help is to connect him or her with someone in your network.
5. Make every meeting count.
Mentee: If you’re asking someone to give up free time, be sure to use it wisely. Come to every conversation with objectives and a list of questions you hope to cover. You might even share these in advance so your mentor has time to prepare. Even more important is following up on the advice your mentor took the time to give you.
Mentor: This is supposed to be a two-way street, so have objectives going into every meeting. What do you need unbiased, outside opinions about? Why not show your mentee your product road map or your new campaign. The meeting is also a great opportunity to get perspective on what’s happening in the world, as seen by someone who may have a different point of view.
6. Know when to end it.
Mentee: Like any relationship, the one that you have with your mentor will someday run its course. Sometimes you "grow out" of your mentor. Or you become co-workers. Or your relationship evolves into friendship. If you approach your mentorship with a specific problem, it will end when the problem is solved. You’ll know when it’s time to move on. Just always be sure to thank your mentor for the expertise.
Mentor: If you are mentoring someone who joins your team, you’ll be serving as a mentor in a management capacity, but your mentee needs to start getting outside perspective. Other times, your mentorship will end because it’s time for your mentee to grow in new ways. Suggest new mentors that can offer a fresh perspective on where the mentee needs to go next.
A recent study from DDI World revealed that 63 percent of women surveyed had never had a formal mentor, but 67 percent of women rated mentorship as extremely important to advance their own careers We need to change this now. It’s everyone’s responsibility to create a better workplace, and mentorship is a big piece of the puzzle. Both mentors and mentees need to prioritize these relationships. As women, we can help one another build successful, satisfying careers and foster growth; frankly, it’s something that we all need to be doing more of.