If you have a mentor, remember that the only payback he receives for helping you is your gratitude and the knowledge that his advice has helped you in some way.
To put it in street language: Nobody owes you nothing. You should effusively thank your mentors whenever they extend themselves for you.
But even though your mentor deserves credit and gratitude for any of your successes that he helped catalyze, he does not deserve blame if any leads or advice he provides fail to pan out.
It is your decision whether and how to follow up on your mentor’s suggestions, so you must take responsibility for how your follow-up turns out — for better or for worse.
What’s more, there are many reasons beyond your mentor’s control that may cause his advice or leads to fail. For example, perhaps his advice was executed improperly; perhaps key contacts are unavailable to help you or fail to produce anticipated assistance; or perhaps time has overtaken the advice.
Whether or not your mentor’s advice works out, he devoted time and thought to provide it to you — efforts that deserve thanks, no matter what their outcome.
So don’t make mistakes commonly made by mentees: to make preliminary comments like, “If X happens from all of this, I’m going to take you out to dinner,” or to only thank mentors when their assistance is fruitful. Rather, if your mentor’s efforts are worthy of a thank-you dinner, he is worthy of that dinner even if his efforts, for whatever reason, fail to meet expectations.
And by all means, if you promise to take your mentor out for thank-you drinks, dinner or anything else, be sure to do it. Otherwise, your mentor will remember, and not appreciate, your broken promise.
Some ways to thank your mentor:
• Report back how his advice helped you. If the advice did not work out, tell your mentor what you learned from the experience.
• Occasionally augment your verbal thanks with creative, intellectual thanks. For example, pass on a relevant article, book or documentary to him.
• Invite your mentor to any celebrations that mark your accomplishments, and publicly give your mentor credit for his help.
• Help your mentor, when appropriate. For example, if you mentor happens to mention, or you notice, an obstacle that you could help him conquer, volunteer to do so.
For example, if your mentor needs help using new media or social networking sites or is not maximizing their effectiveness, offer to help.
• Turn your mentor’s help into a gift that keeps on giving by mentoring another professional who would benefit from your advice. Tell your mentor about the mentoring altruism he helped inspire in you, and how you are passing on his knowledge to other worthy professionals.
• Send a well-thought-out thank-you card. Written thank-yous are more memorable than spoken ones. Also consider giving him a small gift of appreciation, if appropriate. Caution: If you and your mentor are both feds, ask your agency’s ethics officer about constraints on gift-giving.
• Remember that it is never too late to thank a mentor. Even if a teacher, professor, supervisor, colleague, manager or someone else provided you with important guidance years ago — perhaps it was guidance or inspiration that served you well during a pivotal time or throughout your career — contact him now.
There is no expiration date on thank-yous. Even if your mentor doesn’t remember you, or your thank-you is belated, your expression of appreciation will give your mentor a well-deserved thrill.