Simon Sinek on Why Reciprocity Improves Mentor Mentee Relationships

In Chapter 12 of 16 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, author and public speaker Simon Sinek answers "At This Moment in Your Life, Where Are You Seeking Advice and Coaching?"  Sinek notes how he is taking an approach to better balance mentor-mentee relationships in his life.  Specifically, he chooses to mentor someone only if it is a reciprocal relationship, i.e. the mentee also plays a mentor role and vice versa.  Simon Sinek teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people.  His goal is to "inspire people to do the things that inspire them" and help others find fulfillment in their work.  Sinek is the author of "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action".  He works regularly with the United States Military, United States Congress, and many organizations, agencies and entrepreneurs.  Sinek is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and an adjunct staff member at the think tank RAND Corporation.  Sinek earned a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Brandeis University.


Erik Michielsen:  At this moment in your life, where are you seeking advice and coaching?

Simon Sinek:  I have a few mentors, people who I love. And I have a very specific sort of definition of a mentor. So, I have a mentor, a remarkable human being, who’s been there for me, he’s been good to me. And look, he’s much older than me, he’s accomplished much more than me, he’s an amazing guy. And I said to him, I love that you’re my mentor. And he replied, and I love that you’re mine. And I realized that this whole mentor-mentee relationship is unbalanced. It creates this sort of strange power down like that I know everything and you are the mentee. And so my new standard is—occasionally, I’ll get a phone call from somebody that says, hey, Simon, will you be my mentor? And my answer is, only if you’ll be mine.

In other words, I will only be someone’s mentor if I want them to be mine. In other words, if there’s something about them that I want to learn, I wanna be around, I could learn, I could be around, you know? Then I will gladly share what I have as well. But I think mentor relationships aren’t mentor-mentee, they should be mentor-mentor. And one should only agree to be someone’s mentor if you want them to be your mentor too. And so the people I get advice from, I’m proud to say that I get to share with them also. And it’s a mutual relationship, of all the people that I would call my mentors, of all the people that I would say I learn a lot from, I know they would all say the same of me, and I’m proud of that.