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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ask Not What your Mentor Can do for You

For the last few years, I have signed up to be a mentor for my MBA program's Social Impact Movement club and Health Care Management program. The most surprising part is that when students were faced with lists of mentors who were venture capitalists, social venture capitalists, and other titans of industry, two were swayed enough by my credentials of working in a non-profits (including a commune), to select me. Unfortunately, being selected was the highlight of my mentor experience.

I had one conversation with each of them and they were eager, pleasant, and polite. I probably spent 5 minutes more than what was tolerable with my diatribes and philosophy of the world. One wanted to know how to connect to the non-profit community while working for a corporation. The other wanted to know how to transition into the payer/provider side of health care after her indentured servitude (or sponsorship from her consulting firm) ended. Like all mentees, they both wanted contacts so I dusted off my network to give them contacts. That was the end of the relationship. I never heard if they called my contacts, any results, or even a thank you when I sent additional information. It was about transactional as cutting in front of someone while boarding a plane.

I don't expect to get on my mentee's holiday card list or even be Facebook friends (although connecting through Linked In would be a nice touch and appropriate). I know that being 10 years older than them is practically the same as being a senior who eats dinner at 5:00 in Generation Y years. However, I do expect communication and acknowledgment that is on par with Amazon when I place an order. At least Amazon thanks me for my order and lets me know when it's about to arrive. With the importance of mentors becoming as popular an accessory as a case for your smart phone and Google search results on the importance of mentors returning 7.9 million hits, one should know how to be a good mentee.

Most mentees know about being respectful of time and being professional. What mentees do not do well is turn the mentorship into a relationship. Most who network are also too transactional. When given a contact by a mentor, let the mentor know the results of the interaction. It will help the mentor's network as they will know who to tap into or equally important, not to tap into in the future. Complete the deal and follow-up with mentors after completing a job search or graduation. It's about the relationship and not turning a mentor relationship into just a 20 minute phone call.

If mentees don't become better at being mentees, mentors like myself will lose interest. We would rather spend that 20 minutes with someone whom we have a relationship or at least the chance to build one.

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