What Is Mentorship, and How Can I Be a Rock Star At It?

Two people helping a woman at a computer
Two people helping a woman at a computer

People quite often ask me if everyone needs a mentor. The answer seems so easy to me (yes!) because it's actually right in front of our noses -- we just don't see it sometimes. Look closely at your circle of friends, family and other confidants. They are actually already mentoring you without you knowing. These are the best relationships that you can ask for, although we usually don't know what to do with them beyond what we already know. So, how do we tackle these mentorship relationships?

As you know, mentorship has been one of my passions for a long time. I've been involved in mentoring and have been asked to speak and share my thoughts on this topic many times, and I'm always happy to do it again. Here, I'm sharing some pointers on building your relationship with your mentor, and how to make the most of it. Read on to find out the lessons I've learned from being mentored and being a mentor.

1. Your mentor is not supposed to solve your problems. Rather, a mentor should guide you through the process. His or her job is to share guidance and direction that you follow to solve the challenges you are faced with.

2. Try to find a mentor who is the opposite of you (at least in some ways). Yes, it's great to find a mentor who is exactly in your field, has the same background and even uses the same business jargon as you. Yet amazingly, the best advice that I've gotten was actually from someone whose background was nothing like mine. It was like filling up a gap -- everything was complementary. My challenging area had been filled so that they could become strengths. In fact, one of my mentors is the polar opposite of mine. I've realized that he sees the areas that needed to be strengthened within me, and has been able to provide the guidance for me to pursue filling those gaps. Having a mentor who thinks differently and does different work from you can really make you stronger. Try it and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

3. Don't bombard your mentors with too much of the basic stuff. Try to respect his/her time, and don't rely on a checklist when meeting up. This means, it's okay to ask to just meet or chat every other month, quarterly or whenever both of your schedules allow. This also gives your meetings the chance to be more organic so that your relationship can grow.

4. Maximize your mentors' time. I know that you feel that the mentors need to give you advice and he or she needs to help and support you. But, I would really challenge you to ask if there is anything you could do for them. Offering your help and expertise shows how much you care about your mentors, and shows that you're ready to contribute to the relationship, which will help it grow. After all, mentorship is a two-way street.

5. Last but not least, remember: your mentors are not parents. They are not there to yell at you. They are not there to clean up your messes. They are there as your champions. They are your biggest supporters who will guide you step-by-step in your career or personal life. It's up to you to set up a relationship that can give you what you need and give your mentor the attention you would to any other strong relationship in your life.

Strong relationships are the foundation of successful mentorship. Now that you've heard my take on it, I want to hear from you. Have your own pointers for great mentorship? Share anything else that I might have missed here. Or, feel free to share your success stories about a mentor/mentee relationship that you've had.