Through your childhood if you are fortunate you had your parents to look up to for guidance. When you enter school you add on a few teachers and professors. Then you start your career. Are you provided someone to go to for assistance? Are you blessed to use your manager for guidance? What about your HR department are they a good resource? Here’s the thing even as children it’s a good idea to have this strange concept of a mentor. Most organizations and communities get this concept completely wrong. Some use it as a way to punish. Troubled youth, let’s get them connected to a mentor. Get in trouble at work, match them with this person so they can shadow them. Think about how mentors have been used so negatively. No wonder people shy away from having or finding a mentor.
You Know Why
Okay let’s demystify mentors. I am going to focus on mentors in the business world. First why should we have a mentor? As business pros we believe we have all the answers to the obstacles that come our way. Take some time to think about the one obstacle you wish you had a second chance to overcome because you feel you hit every step going down to failure. If you had a good mentor to bounce ideas off of you may have saved yourself some pain. A good mentor will inspire you to do better, connects with you, make you think differently about situations, and last but not least they should provide a judgement free zone. The dictionary definition of mentor is, an experienced and trusted adviser. Trust will play a large role in your mentor. You will more than likely share things about your career, co-workers, and manager that you would not want to be shared with others or them. Second, you want a place to share ideas and not feel incompetent or less than.
What’s My Role
The role of a mentor is simple, they should provide a safe place to be open and advise you on methods to complete your goals. Not tell you what to do, but help you with your plan. I have heard from many mentors on how they hate it when mentees come to them asking, “what should I do to be promoted”? Mentees should come prepared with a plan so that the mentor can offer suggestions, not write the plan. Mentors can see where you may need to improve even when you don’t see it. They are like therapist, they ask probing questions for you to think about and ask for answers later. See, they are not meant to fix it for you, but help you come up with the answer on your own. Reminds me of the old saying “teach a man how to fish…..”. Mentors can make connections and point you in the right direction; they have experience; and they can keep you from making beginners mistakes. Lastly, mentors are free.
You are probably wondering where can I find a mentor? Most people suggest you find a mentor within your same profession. The easy route is to find someone in your organization that you trust. I would suggest finding more than one for different areas in your career. For instance, a mentor at your organization can assist you with advancing in your career at that organization (remember come prepared with a plan). A mentor in the same industry at another organization may give you a different perspective and provide guidance on how to advance at several different organizations. I also believe you should have a mentor for life choices (just a thought, this could be your circle of friends).
Finding a mentor should not be forced and should come from a place of admiration. You should select someone that inspires you either from a conversation you have had, they gave a great speech, or just observing the person in the workplace. When you approach them make sure you are clear on what you are asking them to do. Once they are on board state what you would like them to mentor you on and what skill sets they have that you would like to pull from. Determine the length of time you will meet and how often. Are you going to lunch or meeting at a coffee shop? Is this going to be quarterly meetings or monthly? Once you have identified the frequency of your meetings, schedule them for the year to get them on the calendar. I am guessing your mentor is very busy and the sooner you get it on the calendar the better.
Don’t sell yourself short, let your mentor know what value you bring to the table. For instance, if your mentor is at your organization you may be able to help them understand what the “worker bees” think of their leadership style and provide suggestions. Or you could have great ideas on an initiative they are championing. Be present while you are meeting, the last thing your mentor wants to see is that you are not engaged. Believe me the relationship will need there and you probably have put a pin in your career.
All and all, mentors are a great addition to your life and can assist in many ways. Just remember, come prepared, select someone you admire, and be open minded. You didn’t make it this far in life not being able to handle the truth. Have a good one!