Get a Mentor
I know you’ve heard it. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve heard it from me. You need a mentor to help your career. Easier said than done, right?
Typical questions about mentors and mentoring are:
- What is mentoring?
- How do I find a good mentor for me?
- How do I ask someone to be my mentor?
- How does having a mentor work to help my career?
- What if my mentor and I don’t get along?
- What if my mentor won’t meet with me?
- How do I end the mentor relationship?
What Is Mentoring?
Mentoring, first and foremost, is a LEARNING relationship. The old-school model of mentoring was that the senior, experienced successful mentor took the junior, inexperienced mentee under his wing (yes, it was always a ‘he’). Today’s mentoring is much more complex, but much more productive. It is different depending on the people involved. It could be a senior person helping a junior person succeed in an organization. It could be an expert helping a novice speed up the process of learning. It could be a junior person helping an executive understand social media. The key parts to a mentor/mentee effort are LEARNING and RELATIONSHIP. It is a collaboration, not a one-way relationship. Both parties, but most importantly the mentee, take responsibility for the success of the relationship. The mentee must have a plan, goals and the willingness to step up and reach out for the mentoring to be maximally successful.
How Do You Find A Mentor?
You start with what you need. When you think about your career, what is it that you need? Do you need to learn how to navigate the organization’s politics? Do you need to learn how to be an effective executive? Do you need Executive presence? Do you need to learn how to manage technical people? Do you need to learn to manage your peers? Think strategically? Present your ideas better? Whatever it is (and don’t focus on everything at once–pick the biggest/most important thing), think about who you know, or know of, who can do it well. If there is more than one person who fits that description, who do you think has the best ‘chemistry’ with you. Who do you most want to learn from? Who might have more time? Who do you think might be the better teacher? Based on these questions, pick someone who could mentor you in what you need.
How Do You Ask Someone To Be A Mentor?
Once you’ve identified someone, make a plan. What do you want to learn from the person? Over what time period? What format would work best for you? Informal–like over coffee? Formally scheduled meetings? Asking questions? Your mentor talking and telling stories? Once you’ve thought through these, what kind of proposal can you make to your mentor? Something like:
I’ve admired how well you navigate this organization to get things done for your organization for a while now. I was wondering if you’d be willing to mentor me on how to do that? I was thinking maybe we could have coffee some morning and you could share with me some of the things you wish someone had told you?
Imagine if someone approached you this way. It’s likely that you would be flattered. If you had the time, it is likely that you would be willing to do this. You’re not asking for a long term commitment in this situation. You’re testing the waters. If you have the first meeting (which, if it is more comfortable for you, you could formally schedule a meeting), and the chemistry seems good and the mentor seemed to enjoy it as much as you did, then you can ask for another meeting. In the second meeting, you can ask the person about him/herself.
- How did you get to where you are in the organization?
- What have been your biggest career learnings?
- What do you wish you had known that you know now?
- Are there things you would have done differently?
- Which jobs have taught you the most? Which bosses?
If this conversation goes well, then it is time to suggest that the person be a mentor. Ask if he is willing to be your mentor. Tell him what kinds of things you’d like to learn from him. Over what period of time? How often would you like to meet with him? (Be very reasonable here). Show him that you will take responsibility for learning with him as your guide. If he agrees, ask him how he wants you to be prepared before your conversations? What kind of follow-up and follow-through does he want? Get clear on your goals.
If you approach it in these stages, you get to feel out the relationship element of the mentoring–do you think it will work? Push yourself to ask if the relationship works for you, because it will be worth it. If s/he says no, don’t take it personally. It is probably about time commitment or, just as likely, about the mentor feeling inadequate to the task.
How Does Having A Mentor Work?
The mentoring relationship is about learning–usually both the mentor and the mentee learn. Sometimes the mentor is able to open doors for opportunities, but almost always the mentor opens minds. The mentor helps the mentee see the world through different eyes (usually higher ranking eyes). The mentor helps the mentee have a new perspective–thinking strategically instead of tactically, thinking like a sales person instead of an HR person, understanding how decisions get made at the top of the organization. These new perspectives are JUST AS IMPORTANT as if the mentor helps the mentee land a new job. It is these new perspectives that enable the mentee to succeed at the new job.
What If We Don’t Get Along?
Sometimes mentors and mentees don’t get along. Having a couple of exchanges before you ask for a more formal mentoring relationship can sometimes help avoid this, but not always. If you don’t get along with your mentor, ask yourself why. Is it because she is speaking truth to you and you don’t like it? If that is the reason, it is probably very worth hanging in there. It is really hard to get people to tell you the truth–it is easier to learn to deal with it than to find someone else who will tell it. Is it because the mentor reminds you of someone who you haven’t gotten along with in the past? Your father? Your older sister? Your first boss? Again, it’s really better to work through these issues than to find someone else–this is the kind of issue that will continue to bit you until you learn to deal with it. Is it because the person is a bully or abusive? If so, then it is best to end the relationship. Don’t end it by stomping out. Just thank the person for all the help s/he has provided (this is VERY important) and tell him/her to be sure to let you know if you can return the favor. Then don’t schedule any more appointments.
What If My Mentor Won’t Meet With Me?
It is highly that anyone you want to mentor you is a very busy person. When you have the conversation requesting that she become your mentor, you need to agree how often you will meet. The more you can talk it out–what to do if one of you has to cancel, what to do if scheduling becomes a problem, what are the expectations, what to do if this becomes too burdensome–the less likely this is to be a problem. After a number of cancels–this number should be different if it is a CEO v. a manager–then it is appropriate to ask whether it would be better to take a break till a time that is better. Then go find someone else. The biggest risk here, though, is that you will interpret normal scheduling problems as the mentor not wanting to do this. It is likely that the mentor just has a busy schedule. Don’t read too much into it.
How Do I End The Mentor Relationship?
It is best that you make some kind of arrangement for the end of the mentoring relationship (not the end of the relationship) in the initial agreement that establishes the relationship. You can make it time specific or task specific–get through your next performance review, or do an Executive level presentation, but you do need to identify what the goal and timing of the mentoring relationship should be.
Many, many mentor relationships end and friendship remains. That is ok, but be careful to make the shift in your mental model. Be sure to thank your mentor in a meaningful way. It’s great to keep notes as the mentoring proceeds and to write a summary of what you learned over time for your mentor. It will help cement the learning in both your minds. This could be one of the most important relationships of your working life.
A Good Book That Will Help