Business, any business, is about people. I will defend that statement at any time, in any place, under any circumstance. Leaders know more people, usually because they’ve been around longer and had more opportunities to meet and converse with more people inside and outside their organization. When a leader leaves one company to go to another, it is more likely that they can–in the course of their business day–keep in touch with people from their prior organization. Part of the leader’s job is to help others make connections. Nowhere is this more helpful than in a coaching and mentoring session. This question is designed to get your mental Rolodex going. You listen to the response to this question and search for a person you can recommend as a connection. People need to find other people for information, perspective, or advice. Each of these three situations has its own set of requirements.
Looking for information. Here you need to help your mentee construct her own questions well so that when she asks for information, she’s asking for the right information. Usually you can suggest a phone contact unless the desired information is detailed or lengthy. Make sure you give your mentee permission to use your name as a reference.
Looking for perspective. When perspective is the goal of an interaction between two people, a face-to-face meeting is probably required. This is asking for more than a quick answer, and you are sending your mentee to impose on someone’s most precious commodity these days–time. In this case, you will probably need to make a phone call of explanation or facilitate the meeting yourself.
Looking for advice. I once coached a woman who was struggling with issues around balancing her career with her young children. I can remember my own issues of balance well, but my experience was years ago, and things have changed. I called a friend, a successful working mom I know, and asked if she could spend some time with my mentee, helping her figure out some strategies to keep her sanity. Advice is a bigger request than information and perspective, and I needed to put some skin in the game by asking my friend what I could do to repay her. The night I spent having pizza with her kids while she worked late on a critical report was really quite fun.
No matter what form your connection takes, make sure you remind your mentee about the basics of good networking. You learned them from your mother or, if you didn’t, borrow my mother’s lessons: Please, thank you, and the asker picks up the check.