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The Reciprocal Value of Mentorship

The Reciprocal Value of Mentorship

Last week my most exhilarating conversations were with two of my mentees, both of whom are moving on to a new professional and personal phase in their lives.

I’ve been mentoring women at different stages in their careers for years now; some internal to the companies I’ve worked for, and some external. Some of my mentor relationships have been formal, with an agreement covering when we meet and what our mutual goals are, and some have been more relaxed and along the lines of mini-mentoring.

[Related: Choosing Mentors for an Inspired Career Journey]

Mentoring can be as much of a growth experience for the mentor as it is for the mentee, and for me it’s an energizing experience. Here are ways I make the most of these relationships:

1. Shake it up

Mentor/get mentored by people who work in different roles, departments, companies and industries. I’ve mentored women from fashion to enterprise software and found that the basic principles of career and professional growth are similar regardless of industry. One of my mentees is a director of platform engineering. To the naked eye, our roles, processes and approaches to work might seem different, but our EU experience and shared love of data were common interests that brought us closer and helped us navigate each other’s worlds. One area we tackled together recently was creating/modifying business models and processes to avoid gender bias. Her unique perspective from an engineering view, juxtaposed with mine from a sales and marketing view, made for rich, thought-provoking discovery. Learning to influence others is “daily bread” for sales and marketers, but looking at strategies and approaches for a budding engineering leader was as enriching for me as it was for her.

2. Sparks should fly

If your mentor/mentee does not intrigue you by your second meeting, reconsider continuing the relationship. I once cut a mentee loose when it was clear that the relationship was perfunctory and not engaging for either of us. Almost all my past mentees are still great contacts if not friends, regardless of our changes in company, role or continent. That’s because we built a relationship that continues to be fed by reciprocal interest, if not fascination. Mentorship is not just about what the mentor can do for the mentee – both mentors and mentees should be interested in each other’s stories and feel like they are investing their time in something worthwhile, and even entertaining.

[Watch: Understanding the Impact of Mentorship as a Tool for Leaders]

3. Advocate for each other

Too often mentees view the mentor as someone who is there to help them get their next job or promotion, when in fact, it could be the other way around. Rarely are mentor/mentee going out for the same role, so it makes sense that both can advocate for each other when the opportunity arises. When I was on the executive search committee of a Board of Directors, I actively recruited a former boss and mentor of mine for the CEO position. Not only did I relish the idea of working with him again, but I knew he would be perfect for the role. Senior leaders may have larger networks and better opportunities to “place” mentees, but mentees, too, should think about their opportunity to recommend their mentor for a senior leadership role, thus expanding their own network.


Leilani Latimer is the VP Global Marketing, Partnerships & Commercial Operations for Zephyr Health. She is a marketing leader with proven experience taking nascent business ideas and products from concept to scale, with success in global go-to-market strategies, product marketing and planning, cross-functional team leadership, customer engagement, communications and employee engagement.

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