by Mira Reverente
This week, I was invited by a local high school to participate in its bi-annual Mentors Expo. After the inital introductions, we broke up into groups and in the first round, I got about seven students who wanted to know more about journalism.
One student asked if I have ever mentored a budding journalist. I replied, “Not consciously.” What I meant was, I have never been pursued one-on-one outside speaking engagements. While I am open to it, I think a real, mutually beneficial mentor-mentee relationship is not contrived. It is something that develops naturally over time.
In her best-selling book “Lean In,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says, “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no.” When we find the right mentor, it will be obvious, she adds.
Sandberg recounts the countless times she has been asked to mentor people from out of the blue–friends of friends, children of friends, acquaintances and random individuals she meets at various events. While she’s flattered by the request, she claims it can be awkward and a total mood killer.
I don’t recall having a formal mentor over the course of my career. However, I recall having approached professors, superiors, stakeholders and colleagues for specific issues or dilemmas throughout my schooling and career. Physics was not one of my favorite subjects in high school, but I remember my Physics teacher telling me to ignore the fact that 80 to 90 percent of my class was going to major in a science-related field. He said, “Follow your heart and pursue what you do well.” And here I am.
During a brief foray into public relations work, I was fortunate to work under a highly-respected PR guru. He took me under his wing, and I learned the critical PR skills of negotiation, time management and self-direction from him. I didn’t ask him to mentor me. It just evolved over time.
In essence, these are the mentoring tips I shared with my high school group:
Don’t go asking around for mentors specifically. Like Sandberg said, it is awkward. It puts the potential mentor in a bind.
Find someone whose work you admire and get to know that person. Read up about that person. Follow their blog. Ask around, so when you finally get your 15 minutes with that person, you are prepared.
Let the relationship evolve organically. “The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides,” says Sandberg.
Ask for specific advice or input on how to solve a problem. If you work with a potential mentor, bring up a specific issue or dilemma and ask for input. It’s a win-win situation: you’ll get to know the other person better and you’ll see his/her approach to problems.
Follow up and ask for feedback. So you find a potential mentor. After an initial meeting, follow up with a thank-you email. As your relationship progresses, ask for feedback regularly and be open to it.
Sandberg’s advice that stuck with me the most: “Excel and you will get a mentor” instead of the usual, “Get a mentor and you will excel.”
Mira Reverente is associate editor of CVH and a longtime journalist whose work has appeared in many local publications. Her first book on money came out last fall. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for more money savviness tips or check out her new blog.