In these changing, competitive times, we must all take charge of own careers and seek out mentoring opportunities not only with those more senior but also with our colleagues and subordinates. There are plenty of benefits to being a mentee, but it takes a little strategy to cultivate rewarding relationships. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Be worth the time and energy. Clients and organizations are not paying mentors to invest in you; mentors will make a personal investment of their time and energy if you pro-actively position yourself to show that you’re dedicated. For example, if you want to attract a mentor who will help you navigate the firm and/or profession, you need to do more than just provide great work product; an active interest in staying to develop the firm’s future and/or profession is necessary. Mentors want to know you are hungry and committed.
Steer the process. In order to develop a meaningful mentoring relationship, don’t be shy. Initiate contact with your mentor and cultivate the relationship on a regular basis. Ask questions, come prepared to meetings, candidly share information and be genuinely interested in learning about the person you want to get to know.
Develop reciprocity. Think about what you have to offer your mentor. You hold more relevant cards than you think. It could be just as easy as providing an honest, on-the-ground perspective about the case/deal, firm or industry; or as long-lasting as being loyal to your mentor’s growing practice. It could be as varied as offering a new network for your mentor’s pet charity or as personal as talking to their kids about college.
Build a diversified board. The idea of finding that one perfect mentor who will stick with you as your skills continue to change or as you flow from one stage of life to the next is outdated with the changing economy, demographics and times. Build a personal “board of directors” you can turn to for advice. When developing relationships with mentors, consciously look across gender, age or ethnicities. Even consider building a team of mentors beyond your practice group, firm, profession or even borders. Through a little effort and a bit of technology, you can develop a diversified board that will provide different perspectives, honest feedback and relationships that will be ultimately beneficial to all involved.
Your mentors don’t have to sit in the corner office. Cultivating relationships means more than just with the boss or rising star. I personally have always turned to my assistants for the most institutional knowledge. They give me the best advice, provide a unique perspective on how things really work, and are indispensable sounding boards.
You don’t have to be your mentor’s “mini-me.” The advice your mentor gives you is from his/her unique experiences and dependent on his/her own industry, previous and current firms/companies, gender and even generation. Digest what you learn, but tailor it to fit your individual situation and style.
Leverage institutional resources to aid your mentoring relationship. Use the programs that are available to you for mentoring opportunities. For example, here at Dechert, all lawyers can take advantage of the “shadowing” program. Use this time, for which you can get up to 25 hours of credit, to invest in yourself and your relationship. As an associate, ask a partner if you can tag along to watch the argument of a motion or see if you can shadow a pitch. Or ask your practice group manager to find out about new opportunities.
Be appreciative. Write a thank you note for your mentor’s time and effort in coaching you – and add an action step of what one thing you now will do based on his/her advice. Further, help create visibility for your mentor by recognizing him/her to others around you.
Champion other women. Madeleine Albright once remarked, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” Think of opportunities where you can support other women’s careers and become the mentor you want to have. Encourage each other to continue to achieve and to lead.
About the Author
Angela M. Liu is an associate in Dechert LLP's litigation practice group, where she focuses on the defense of publicly-traded companies and their directors and officers in securities class action litigation, derivative litigation, SEC investigations, merger litigation, corporate governance disputes, mutual fund litigation, and other complex commercial litigation. She practices in the firm's Chicago office.