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  • Clayton Cunningham, Eastern Oregon University

Two Tips on Mentor Acquisition and Retention

I have heard the question “How do I get a mentor?” more times than I’d like to admit. A question that I regard to be like, if not the same as “how do I find a girlfriend/boyfriend?” It’s about carefully developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Finding a mentor is like planting and growing a seed. If you want carrots, aggressively shoving carrots into the ground is not the right tactic. Carrot seeds are gently planted and provided with water and nutrients to grow. Only then can a bountiful crop be harvested.

Most importantly, it is inadvisable to come right out of the gate with “will you be my mentor?!” It’s comparable to walking up to a total stranger and clumsily asking “will you be my girlfriend?!” Not only does this display the social and communication skills of a middle schooler, but it also puts that person in an awkward position. The victim either feels obligated to say yes or they must go through the uncomfortable process of saying no. If you really want to start a relationship with a respected person, start with a less ham-fisted approach. Start off by determining a way to respectfully let a prospective mentor know you want to talk with them. This will look different depending on each specific situation. If this prospective mentor is a work colleague, perhaps offering to take them to lunch during their break would be the correct approach. If you’re a student and you like one of the professors, office hours are an excellent opportunity to chat with and get to know each other. If this person is not conveniently close, then perhaps a quick introductory call or email and a request for a quick meeting. There are infinite ways in which one could tactfully introduce themselves, however, no matter the situation, there are a few considerations that require forethought before deciding to initiate contact;

  • Does this person seem interested in mentoring at all?

  • Am I being respectful of this person’s time and energy?

  • Is this a good time to be pursuing this person’s mentorship? What’s going on in their lives that might be more important?

Before I introduce the second point, I’d like the reader to ask himself/herself a question; Why would a mentor possibly want to mentor me? What do I have to offer? Despite what some may believe, the mentor/mentee relationship is not a one-way street. In any transaction or long-lasting relationship, there is an equal exchange of value between the parties involved. For every measurable amount of experience, knowledge, and/or opportunity gained by the mentee, there is an equal amount of leadership practice, perspective, new information, and personal satisfaction transferred to the mentor. If the perceived value transfer is not equal, I emphasize, the relationship will end! A serious mentee needs to determine what he/she has to offer and present it well. As a personal example, I offer an analytical set of eyes, unabashed criticism of anything and everything, and a determination for perfection. Maybe you offer excellent social and speaking skills and a passion for business leadership? What you have to offer doesn’t matter so long as both mentee and mentor find value in it.

To wrap this all up, starting a relationship with anyone can be a daunting task. There’s even more pressure when you’re trying to develop a relationship with someone who you admire and who may be extremely busy. However, the advantage it provides you in life as you pursue a career and future is too great to ignore. So, when you’re looking for a mentor be courteous, tactful, and know what you can bring to the table.

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