We asked W. P. Carey Alumni: What is your advice for developing an authentic relationship with a mentor?
Here is what they shared:
- Build Trust
- Instigate and Follow Up
- Connect With Mentors in Your Desired Roles
- Know Your Why and Focus On Outcomes
- Come Prepared and Be Intentional
- Do Your Homework and Don’t Rush the Process
- Be Honest and Willing to Change
- Deposit as Much as You Withdraw
An authentic relationship with a mentor is possible if you can establish trust with that person (in a professional context) – this is built over time and as part of the natural give and take of your mentoring conversations. Consider not just what you are looking to get out of the relationship, but what your mentor gets out of it, and make sure you’re invested in helping them achieve their own goals.
If the relationship is about making both of you more successful and having a bigger impact on the company and its objectives, that’s a good foundation for the trust you need for an “authentic” relationship, and not a performative one.
Instigate and Follow Up
As someone who is always eager to help anyone who’s ready to help themselves, I’ve realized if I’m the one instigating mentor interactions more than the mentee, that’s not a good sign. If you truly value your mentor (you may not, that’s okay but find one you do!) it is on you to kick start communication and follow up with progress. Make it easy for them and provide updates on your wins and setbacks.
Connect With Mentors in Your Desired Roles
Mentor relationships form by building rapport over a commonality (such as an end goal). They say you are who you surround yourself with, and I believe it to be true. If your end goal is to become a CMO, then reach out to have coffee with someone in the Marketing field who is at a more advanced level than you are and absorb as much information as you can from their experience. Get to know them by asking both professional and personal questions.
As you begin to advance, keep getting to know the folks with more experience than you, and learn as much as you can from them. You may be surprised at what kind of helpful intel you can glean just from having a few genuine conversations with the right people. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn!
Know Your Why and Focus On Outcomes
Working with entrepreneurs and in Venture Development (building startup communities and ecosystems), I find that it’s critical that you distinguish yourself, for yourself, to the extent that you are creative and entrepreneurial.
There is a vast chasm of differences between guiding businesses or career-driven professionals, and entrepreneurs. You can be both but what you want in a relationship with a mentor is a clear distinction of your goals in the relationship so that you connect with a mentor who can best help you realize those goals.
Startup founders and entrepreneurial people, guided by business-oriented professionals, tend to mismatch – our risk tolerances, emotional intelligence, and cultures aren’t the same. Entrepreneurs are outcome driven rather than oriented to plans and goals; rather than asking *what* and *how* we accomplish something, we seek the people who understand and focus on *why* we’re so driven to achieve that outcome.
Come Prepared and Be Intentional
The most important part of choosing a mentor and developing an authentic relationship is knowing WHY they are your mentor. What is it that they’ve accomplished in their lives that you’d like to accomplish in yours? Understand their background, where they’ve worked, where they went to school and even what hobbies they enjoy to better connect and to leverage your relationship.
A mentor is only valuable if the mentee puts in the work, the onus is on them to do the heavy lifting in the relationship. The mentor typically has more responsibility in their lives, they might have multiple mentees, they might be on the leadership team at their company and they are taking the time to help grow your career and your professional capabilities.
So, in order to create a meaningful relationship, come prepared each time you meet with questions, topics for discussion or situations that you might need help navigating.
Do Your Homework and Don’t Rush the Process
My best piece of advice for developing an authentic relationship with a mentor would be to really figure out what it is that you need help with and to do your research to find a candidate that has the appropriate experience to help you. I recall feeling left behind when I didn’t have a mentor. In hindsight, I realized that it was not possible for me to develop an authentic relationship if I didn’t have a clear idea of what they can help with.
To start the relationship, go to the meeting prepared with questions that are pointed and align with their experience. To maintain and deepen the relationship, show your appreciation by being invested in their success.
Authenticity Requires Honesty and Willingness to Change
If there is one piece of advice I can pass on, it’s that you have to recognize that the mentor/mentee relationship only works if you allow yourself to be vulnerable, listen to understand (not to respond), and recognize that you may hear advice that cuts deep. If the mentor never tells you anything that hits, then it’s not truly authentic.
The best mentor relationships I’ve had are those where my mentor was my total opposite in personality and approach, so was able to give me a very different perspective. There were times when the truth as they saw it hurt because of how much value I placed in their opinion, and I was thus vulnerable emotionally. However, that advice, when I look back, was exactly what I needed to hear and helped me take leaps forward in my career.
Deposit as Much as You Withdraw
Be authentically interested and curious about how you – as a mentee – can be a resource, advocate and/or contributor to your mentor’s success. Often the growth and success of the mentee is the sole focus, but mentorship shouldn’t be a one-way street.
As a mentee, showing you are just as invested in your mentor’s success sets your mentor/mentee relationship apart because you are willing to deposit as much as you withdraw from the relationship. The best advice I received from a leader I admire was to think about and ASK how I could help one of my mentors in their new role at their new company, solely because I believed in them and wanted to see them succeed.
Be an uncommon mentee. Seek ways to fill your mentor’s cup, as they fill yours!