Find a Mentor. Use a Mentor. Be a Mentor.
I’m sure you’re always hearing the advice that you need a mentor. In fact, you’ve even heard it from me. Why do people keep giving that advice? There is research that supports the theory that people with mentors are more successful, get promoted faster and are happier on the job. It certainly has been my personal experience. My mentors guided me over rough spots, taught me things that I needed to know, and told me things straight that no one else would.
What Do Mentors Do That Helps?
- Provide One-On-One Support
- Provide A Different Organizational Perspective (and Usually a Better One)
- Provide Help With Organizational Politics
- Provide a Power Boost to Your Network
- Provide a Different Generational Perspective
- Provide Some Problem or Task Specific Guidance
- Hold You Accountable
- Help Make the Unknown Knowable
Types Of Mentoring Relationships
- Developmental– These mentors help you grow your abilities and skills. They teach, model and guide.
- Sponsorship–These mentors can open doors to you–help you get into a school or an organization.
- Hierarchical–Most of us think of mentors/mentees as a ‘Senior Person in Organization/Junior Person in the Organization’ model. This is probably the most standard kind of mentor relationship in career development.
- Expertise–This relationship between an expert and a novice can be based on knowledge, skill or experience. This mentor can help with specific or global learning.
- Boss Mentors, Boss’ Boss Mentors, Boss’ Peer Mentors–Bosses can be good mentors, as can their peers or bosses. These mentor relationships have to be handled with a little more care since there are potential negative ramifications if it doesn’t work out.
- Career, Dream, Life–Mentors come in many flavors. They can help your career trajectory. They can also help you achieve your dream–start a business, write a book, learn to cook. They can also help you with other aspects of a great life–being a good husband, father, golfer, healthy.
- Generational Mentors–Most mentor relationships are between older mentors and younger mentees. Consider getting a younger mentor–they definitely have a different perspective. If you can get over thinking that your perspective is “right,” through a relationship with a younger mentor, then you will be far better off than you are now. Younger mentors know things that you don’t know and their mental models are different. Sooner or later, you will work for someone younger than you. Who better to help you get good at than than someone of the same generation.
How Do You Find A Mentor?
What Do You Want From A Mentor?
Get very clear about why you want a mentor. ‘Just cause’ isn’t good enough. When you think about your career, or your life, or your progress, what is missing. How do you think a mentor can help you? What are your goals? What do you need to know? What do you need to do? Investigate whether your organization already has a mentoring program that would help you. Even if you aren’t eligible for some reason–find out how it works, how mentors/mentees are chosen. You might want to model it for yourself. Based on your goals and gaps, who could help you?
How Do You Pick?
- Think of someone who is where you want to be.
- Think of someone who you like.
- Think of someone who knows how to do something that you need to know how to do.
- Think of someone who is well-connected to people who could help you.
- Think of someone who is a thought leader in your field.
- Think outside your organization. Is there someone in another organization (not a competitor) who can help you understand? (Try using LinkedIn’s Advanced Search)
- Think virtual–your mentor doesn’t have to be physically present–not today.
- Think more than one–I once worked with a very successful man who had three–two for different aspects of his business and one for balance.
How Do You Ask Someone to Be a Mentor?
First of all, don’t wait. Mentors can be major accelerators for career performance. Just the questions they ask can cause you to change your performance. I know it is hard to approach someone, especially someone you don’t know well, and ask them to help you on something as personal and important as your career. Push yourself to do it.
- Start small. Ask for some advice. Reply to a blog post. Go speak to the person after a presentation or speech. Comment on a book. Ask for an interview for an article, a blog, a presentation. Seek an introduction through LinkedIn.
- Gauge the reaction to the first encounter. How did it feel to interact with the person? How open did the person seem. Don’t give up after the first encounter. Find another way to interact again.
- Be proactive. Get noticed.
- Once noticed, ask. Ask if the person would be willing to be your mentor. Or ask if the person would be willing to have an occasional conversation about your career. Ask if the person will advise you about how your project. Or, based on her experience and career path, what she would suggest as next career steps for you.
- Don’t get too formal too quickly.
- Be clear and honest on who you are, what you need, what you can provide. (In a recent LinkedIn survey on women mentors, most women said they had never been mentors because . . . wait for it . . . they had never been asked.
If your first or second encounter with the person doesn’t “feel” right, then don’t continue. Mentor relationships are dependent on the chemistry between the two parties to work well. You certainly can learn from people you don’t ‘click’ with, but a long-term, ongoing mentor relationship works best if there is a connection between the two. It works best if both people genuinely care about each other and want to contribute to the success of the encounters and each person’s goals. If the person you seek out declines, move on. I know you hear it all the time, but IT ISN’T PERSONAL. He is busy. She feels uncomfortable at the idea of being a mentor. He doesn’t want to run afoul of your boss. She doesn’t believe bosses are good mentors. Whatever his/her reason, articulated or not, move on. Find someone else. There are thousands of people (at least) out there who can be just as good a mentor as the one you just asked.
How Do You Get the Most Out Of A Mentor Relationship?
- Straight Talk: The most important thing in a mentor relationship is to create an environment where your mentor feels comfortable being straight with you. It is an incredible gift to get clear and unencumbered feedback about yourself, you skills, the way others perceive you and WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. If you overreact, get emotional or aren’t straight yourself, you will have some nice conversations, but you will not have a powerful mentor relationship.
- Work It, It’s Up To You: The success of the relationship and the subsequent results are UP TO YOU. You do the work. It is your career or dream or life. You get the answers, the feedback, the ideas and THEN YOU WORK IT.
- Don’t Waste Their Time: Treat the relationship and its output like the gift that it is. Be grateful. Reciprocate. Don’t think that because you are lower down the hierarchy or are younger or less educated that you don’t bring something to the table. You bring a different perspective. Anytime you (or your mentor) sees things differently, you become more powerful and more capable of better solutions.
Become A Mentor Yourself, And Get Even More Out Of It
If you think having a mentor is good, being a mentor is better. Having to articulate your knowledge, perspective, theory of success or providing “how-to” knowledge makes you better. It opens you up to new ideas and provides you with energy and motivation. It is a really great experience.