Will you be my Mentor?
I recently had the privilege of guest lecturing at a Women's Leadership class at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. I was invited to speak on the topic of mentorship since I've started a company, Tribute, that seeks to redefine professional mentorship. Focusing on personal connection, and using storytelling as a means to connect.
At the end of the class, I had a line of bright young women brimming with excitement and energy waiting to speak with me. I figured they were intrigued by this 35- year-old female entrepreneur who walked into their class, unapologetic for living life on her own terms. Alas no, thankfully in 2019, these women have many role models of female breaking barriers. The No. 1 question they had for me was, "How do I ask for a mentor without the other person feeling like I'm using them?"
I was prepared for a lot of questions, but this one struck a chord with me. "What do you mean?" I said. They responded with a variety of answers. From cultural reasons, to not understanding how to network, to being raised to be "too independent", to the most notable answer, not believing they had any value to give in the mentorship relationship.
Here I was surrounded by the next generation of future female leaders, and I was dumbfounded at how many of them worried that asking for help might be perceived as using someone else. To be clear, the point of mentorship is to draft behind our mentors in order to accelerate our own personal and professional growth. Every generation, and successful person you know, has drafted behind someone else to get ahead.
That said, there is a way to ask for a mentor. And a way not too. If you're reading this and wondering the same, it's okay. Here are five things to consider when asking for a mentor.
Networking is a 365 day-a-year job. If you aren't engaging and expanding your personal and professional network when you don't need something, you're going to have trouble making the ask for a mentor when you do. All great mentorships start with a personal connection. There is no such thing as a 'cold' mentorship request. Spend the time getting to know someone, and then make the ask.
You need to know what you want. That sounds pretty basic. But the reality is mentorship has become such a buzz word, that we all think we need one without truly understanding why, or what we want to get out of that mentorship. Make a list of the skills and or experiences you want to gain from a mentor, and then share those when making the ask. Sometimes we think someone might be a good mentor for us because we like them, when in reality, they may not have the skills, experience or time to help us achieve our goals.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Often we look towards the most senior people within a company, or whom we know, to be our mentors. This may work for some, but the truth is, they may be too far removed from your day-to-day experience to be of benefit to you. When looking for a mentor, don't just look for the most senior person in the room. Seek out someone 1-2 steps ahead or even behind you. You may be surprised at how much wisdom you have to gain from those who are in the trenches with you.
Everyone secretly wants to help. As humans, we are wired to help one another. To find shared purpose and understanding. That doesn't mean that everyone is always in a position to help, but it does mean you shouldn't apologize, or feel bad for asking. Being able to use your life experiences and story to benefit someone else is an honor. By asking someone to be your mentor, you are giving them the gift of service.
Recognize that mentorship is a two-way street. Tribute's logo of two leaves turning towards one another symbolizes, "I grow, you grow." When making an ask for a mentor, ask yourself, is this someone who is interested in hearing my story? Does this person have, and want, to spend time with me? If the answer is no, I would not ask that person to be my mentor. The best mentorship relationships are those where each person gains value from helping one another.
Sarah is the CEO and Founder of Tribute, a modern mentorship app for the workplace that connects employee together through shared life experiences. When not working, Sarah loves to spend her time reading, writing, teaching, mentoring and spending time on her houseboat with friends and family.