I used to be able to say “yes” to pretty much anyone who reached out to me for mentoring. As requests increase, however, and wonderfully so, I simply can’t mentor everyone who reaches out, no matter how much I may want to.
So, I reflexively tick through a mental checklist –
Can I actually help them? It may be that what this person wants is something that I don't do, don't do very well, don't want to do, or the cost is too high for me to do. It's nice when the help I can give is in my sweet spot.
Do I like this person? Whether we mean to or not — we always project ourselves just a little on to the people we mentor — so we need to like them. Period.
Was it hard for them to ask me for help? Some of the most intensely driven people I know are bad at asking for help. I find the awkwardness to be a good thing. When a person struggles, it means they value what I can know. Human that I am — like every other mentor on the planet — I want to be valued.
When I give them advice, do they act? The highest form of respect you canpay a person is to listen to and act on their advice. Not always, of course, but consistently. If you act, I know you are serious. If you don't, then you are wasting your time, and mine. Did you want an outstretched hand or simply a handout?
How can my mentee mentor me? Sure, I can help Meredith Fineman. I also like her. And it wasn’t easy for her to ask. Actually she didn’t. I offered. But the fact is I learn from her all the time. And not just in a gee-that's-sort-of-quaint-that-thing-I-learned from-this-here-millennial. She has superpowers I can only dream of having – how to write fast and effectively, how to title an article, what to say to the press, how to be clever — she also teaches me to brag better.
Famed founder of Intel Andy Grove recently wrote, “Whenever I hear the words mentor and mentee, I get nauseous.” Grove’s point is that the ideal mentoring relationship is more complex than a simple equation of “A helps B.” Mentoring can be give and take — both A and B teach each other and everyone benefits.
The lesson here is this: we hold each other up, make for a great buddy comedy, and provide the most important part of what mentorship really is: perspective, despite our birthdays.
Pre-order my book “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work here. Sign up for my newsletter here. This piece was co-authored with Meredith Fineman, founder of FinePoint, a leadership company that empowers CEOs, founders, and other levels of professionals through public relations tactics, as well as teaches women of all ages how to brag and self promote. You can read more of her writing here.
This post originally published at linkedin.com