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Owning Your Part in the Relationship: Three Essentials to Making the Most of the Mentor-Mentee Dynamic

During my 10 years at a CRO, I worked with approximately 40,000-50,000 people. That means there were at least 40,000-50,000 mentorship opportunities to make connections and determine the right path forward in my career. However, I never felt like I did enough to optimize and build a mentor-mentee dynamic on that journey.

I also struggled with feeling that what I was doing didn’t really matter in the bigger picture of my life, and that was a pain point because I wanted to do big things. I sat with it on my own rather than working through it with others in my field. I wondered if I just didn’t take advantage of my mentorship relationships or even knew what that looked like.

It took me running my own company to realize what I really wanted to do. And once I started my company, I saw the importance of taking charge of my own career by finding the right people who could support me along the way.

My experience paves the way for some insight that I want to bring to this community. Being proactive in nurturing multiple mentorship relationships is crucial to career success and fulfillment. Rather than waiting for one mentor to give you opportunities, you need to play an active role in your professional growth by seeking opportunities for mentorship, and doing so with a targeted group of people who all have their unique expertise to offer.

This may sound daunting, I know. However, if you follow the three steps below, you’re going to be miles ahead of those who don’t.

Understand what you want and where you’re going

Your career path is a long and winding road ahead, and to reach your destination, you’re going to need help along the way. Before you ask for directions, you’re going to need to look at your internal map. It’s time to reflect on what you really want in your career and where you want to go.

Often, when someone approaches me for mentoring, my first questions are:

Before you meet with your prospective mentor, determine the answers to these questions. You need to know why you’re asking your prospective mentor for help, what you’re trying to gain, and where you’re trying to go next. Everyone is busy these days, and you want to make sure you can use your time and your mentor’s time effectively. By knowing yourself and your goals, you’ll be able to have more efficient and direct conversations that address your exact needs.

It’s also important to keep in mind that your career path isn’t necessarily a ladder. Many people think they want to be in management, but why? It could turn out that you don’t really enjoy being a CEO or high-level executive.

Consider what types of roles and responsibilities you typically gravitate toward and focus on growing your strengths. If you’re unsure where to start, StrengthsFinder is a tool that I’ve found useful. And, of course, there’s always the option of asking your leaders and peers for their feedback.

Build your network

Imagine you’re going on a journey in a new, exploratory place. On your trip, you’d need more than just one tool to get you where you need to go. Let’s say you’re going on a hike. You’ll likely need a pair of hiking shoes, a map, sunscreen, water, etc. Each tool serves its purpose, and none of them can do it all.

You can use this same kind of concept when you’re thinking through who’s going to help you on your career journey. Different mentors will serve different needs, and together, their various perspectives and experiences will offer you a holistic view of the path ahead.

If you need help thinking through who to reach out to, you should first consider individuals who have the skills and techniques that you need. For instance, if you’re starting a company and don’t know how to do financial projections, it may be time to speak with a CFO. Or if you don’t know how to effectively communicate on social media, you can converse with a marketing professional.

You don’t have to know how to do it all; you just need to know people who can fill in your knowledge gaps. You may be able to find these people within your company, but you might need to think outside of the box. A good way to introduce yourself is to buy someone a coffee or lunch to find out what their job is like. By doing so, you’ll be able to get a sense of what they enjoy in their job and, ultimately, what you might love about their job. And never forget the power of networking at an in-person or virtual event that hosts professionals in a position or industry that’s of interest to you.

Manage the relationship

Once you’ve determined where you want to go and who you want as your mentors, the final path to success will be to approach each interaction with clear goals and manage up to ensure efficient, productive discussions.

One way to keep the interactions productive is to assist your mentors with time management. Be sure to keep your time commitments with your mentor and be respectful of their schedule, as well as set deadlines to accomplish tasks that they may bring up. For instance, if your mentor gives you an assignment, complete it on time, and make an appointment for when you’d want to reconvene.

When you’re making an appointment, be conscious of your mentor’s time by meeting with them in small chunks. I have a good friend who will ask me to go for a walk and will use that time to pick my brain about how she should approach certain situations. By making her ask small, she enables me to find time in my day to mentor her, and both of us end up winning!

Finally, you should always be direct and transparent throughout the conversations. There’s no need to guess about what your mentor might be thinking – they’re there to help you. You can ask questions about where they think you have opportunities to grow and frame feedback in a forthright and positive manner. Be honest with your own opinions about where you are and where you want to be so that they can offer the most effective advice.

So, now that you have your map and directions, it’s time to set out on your path to a bright career ahead! I wish you the very best as you work toward your destination.