Demystify the Mentorship Process in Six Steps

In an effort to continue and highlight the conversation around the important topic of gender disparities, as well as to create immediate opportunities for progress, Propeller consultants started Propel Her, a gender diversity initiative. The group hosts public community panels to create actionable strategies for women to propel their careers. Propel Her recently held their inaugural San Francisco-based event on the topic of mentorship and demystifying the process of finding a mentor relationship, which can often feel overwhelming. Thanks to a group of dynamic panelists from a variety of industries, we gleaned helpful insights and connected with a great community of attendees. 

Propeller consultant, JD Johnson, who helps lead the initiative in San Francisco, moderated the discussion and created a list of six key takeaways from the panel.

1. Mentorship relationships come in all shapes and sizes

A mentor can be a sounding board for advice, someone who can help you network with new connections, or a consistent support system. Mentorship can come in the form of one single powerful conversation that can change the direction of your career or it may be a relationship that lasts for years. 

2. Keep it casual and look for chemistry

The mentorship process does not have to formal. While structured mentorship relationships are valuable, some of the best relationships our panelists had were those that happened organically between two people who had common goals. Former Propeller Agile Practice Director, Heather McFarland, shared that her mentor “has a spark, a certain magic that made me want to learn more about her as well ask for her to help me feel empowered in the same way she does.” The panelists agreed that the best mentorship relationships form when there is a spark or immediate connection and conversation flows easily. When that spark isn’t present, the relationship typically doesn’t last as long.

3. The more, the better

Meg Sloan, Marketing and Operations Partner at Foundation Capital, shared that you don’t need to have just one mentor. She has what she calls “a board of directors” for mentors. She uses her board of mentors in different ways to support her growth and she meets with them as necessary without a formal process.

4. Sometimes it’s a one-way street, and that’s ok

Your mentorship relationship does not always have to be reciprocal. Mayah Curtis, who is a Senior Principal at Quintiles, shared that her most impactful mentor relationships have evolved and after years of being encouraged and advised on her own career, only recently has she become a sounding board for her mentors.

5. don't fear the unknown

Katharine Boshkoff, Hult International Business VP of Global Careers Development & Alumni Relations, advised that while many of the best relationships happen organically, it doesn’t hurt to take a chance and ask someone you admire to be your mentor. It takes practice to build up the courage to ask, so practicing with your social network or even having an open and friendly conversation with your Uber driver can help increase your confidence when approaching someone you don’t know well. 

6. Be prepared

Knowing yourself, your goals, and your vision are all important to having a successful relationship. “Reach out to a potential mentor with a clear purpose in mind and plan out what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship” was a piece of advice Jennie Yang, Director of Customer Success at 15Five, shared with the group. You should have topics or ideas of what you want to discuss in advance of every meeting with your mentor. To add to this, Amy Kohler, VP of Strategic Engagement at Maker Sight noted that is important to “make the effort, be responsive, listen, and show your mentor that you’re committed.” While your mentor can give you advice and share their wisdom, they won’t know how best to guide you if you don’t have a direction. 

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JD Johnson learned early in her career how to adapt strategy to the unique personalities and skillsets of her teams. She leads projects much as she leads her fellow players on the basketball court: with the understanding that you win together or lose together, making collaboration and communication key determinants of success. JD holds an MBA from Hult International Business School and a bachelor’s degree in history from York University.