We explored what makes for an effective mentorship relationship with three Booth experts.

The mentorship model has had a long run: with roots stretching back to ancient Greece, it still plays a key role in the instruction of the next generation of leaders. And this is true across many disciplines, from science to education to business. But it’s evolved a lot, especially in recent years. These days, the mentee is often a much more active participant in his or her own learning than ever before, which can be a benefit to both sides—and those around them.

Heather Wade, ’18 (EXP-23), is client director at Merkle Aquila, a consultancy firm in London.

Whether you’re looking for a mentor or being mentored yourself, finding people who are in different areas of business is key. Collaborating with mentors and mentees from complementary areas really helps on both sides because you can see things in new ways. It’s certainly helped me gain a better perspective and understanding of business. It’s also led to specific measurable monetary outcomes in terms of return on time invested, as I’ve taken what I’ve learned from the mentoring process and used it to drive better results on key projects.

For instance, I mentor an analyst, but I’m not an analyst myself. Through engaging with the skills my mentee has that I don’t share, I am better able to understand timescales and analysts’ needs for projects I’m leading. Then, I can write better briefs for my clients and manage expectations better. And there are other benefits of mentoring others. For instance, it’s helped me in terms of communicating further up the business. I’ve mentored people who have helped me understand what’s going on more fully within different cohorts, and then we take those themes and help others understand what we could be doing better as a whole.

Finding people naturally generally works best. This is counterintuitive, since most programs match people intentionally. But it works very well in smaller companies to let people naturally gravitate toward others who have interesting perspectives. In general it doesn’t work to be told, “This is your mentor. You have no input.” That’s tough.

What’s important is letting the mentees voice what they want to discuss and learn, and nailing that down swiftly. Some mentees may be looking to expand their network, understand new things, or get a better sense of what’s going on in the business as a whole. So understanding what people want to use mentorship for is important, and you get to this by asking enough questions to get under the skin of what they’re looking for. Then you can tailor the mentorship sessions toward these key areas.

You really have to put the time and effort in—not just grab your mentees for 10 minutes when you have a break.

People who come in right out of business school may have a very different perspective of the world of work and what they’re looking for. I’ve learned a lot from that as well. Oftentimes people are looking for high project turnover, lots of different things to be working on at once. This is a shift from five or 10 years ago. And as a mentor, you may have to help guide a mentee about expectations. We take on interns and new graduates. When they’re brand-new, we still look to find them a mentor from a different area of business, and they generally appreciate this alternative perspective.

Finally, I would say, you really have to put the time and effort in—not just grab your mentees for 10 minutes when you have a break. You have to make time for them. When you’ve said you’ll follow up on something, you have to. At the same time, you can’t overpromise. A mentor is generally not the same as a line manager, and isn’t necessarily going to be consulted about promotions or new projects for their mentees.

For me good mentorship is really about the collaboration and the sharing of skills—and there are massive benefits that can come of it for both sides. It’s not a one-way relationship. As a mentor, you can learn too. And you can learn a lot.

This is an extract from Chicago Booth Magazine, featuring Heather Wade, Client Director, Merkle Aquila. Full article can be read here.

Back to News