How a formal mentorship relationship changes everything.

Why a dedicated relationship with a mentor can make a big difference.

After 15 years in the workforce, Rita Kakati Shah stepped back to raise a family. Even with ample experience and an impressive resume, when she sought to return to a career, Kakati Shah realized she had a lot to learn. “There wasn’t anyone to hold my hand, to build up my confidence,” she says. “That’s the first thing that goes.”

She sought the advice of friends and former colleagues, read dozens of books and worked hard to figure out how best to prepare for a new chapter. But without a formal mentor, Kakati Shah found the path forward a hard one, she says. She founded Uma so she could mentor other women navigating this and other tricky transitions. “Without having a champion to help you, it’s very difficult to navigate,” she says.

Kakati Shah had a colleague recommend MicroMentor to her, which sent her on “a journey,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful, positive experience that has taught me something about myself, too.”

Informal mentorship can span mediums, from casual personal relationships to Twitter, YouTube and Google as resources, says Cameron Law, executive director of the Carlsen Center, which has been a key catalyst for the Mentor Sacramento project. LinkedIn can serve as a kind of informal mentorship space, Law says, with an intriguing array of connections to successful leaders around the world. But seeking mentorship on that massive platform can lack focus.

Formal mentorship means ‘focus’, A direct, intentional relationship between mentor and mentee provides a consistent container for working through ideas. “It’s really coming from a place of questioning and wonder,” Law says, “not imposing ideas on an entrepreneur. What it does is create a space for the mentee to see themselves working through their own challenges.”

“By making a connection in your own community, you can much more successfully navigate challenges,” Law says. “Maybe you identify a resource, a new customer or a way to get in front of people that you wouldn’t have had in the past.

Both as a mentor and mentee, investment expert Natisha Livingston has a saying: “I care about the One,” she says. “If I post something on social media, I can reach thousands of people. But in mentorship, you can say something and one person does something different. That’s what I want to see.”

A dedicated mentor can help mentees think in a structured way but also outside of the box, pulling from experience in other industries and other countries to help solve complex challenges, Kakati Shah says. “I ask questions like ‘Who else is in your network? What else can we do? OK, let’s turn to online. What investors do you have?’ It’s constantly thinking about how you can best help that person.”

The formal relationship benefits mentors, too. Thinking about solving problems in someone else’s business can help mentors “stretch,” Kakati Shah says. “It’s a really good way of staying open to what’s going on and flexible to different surroundings, building up your own skillset and knowledge base.”

Mentor Sacramento is an innovative and inclusive partnership between the City of Sacramento and MicroMentor, the online business mentoring platform that connects diverse small business owners to volunteer business mentors. Learn more.