At various points in our careers, we need a mentor to provide guidance as we contemplate change and make plans for the future. They don't replace coaches, supportive managers or encouraging friends - but at certain milestones, the mentor's guidance has primacy.
Along with being a helpful sounding board they might also provide useful introductions to their network. Good mentors challenge you, stretch you and make themselves available. While not always warm, they're approachable and ultimately have your interests at heart.
Some companies offer mentoring programs as a form of professional development. Also, it's not uncommon in industries such as professional services, for a senior manager to take an interest in an employee they see as having future potential.
How lucky to be offered mentorship by somebody with whom we have an authentic, professional, constructive connection. Unfortunately, that's rare, so when my clients' approach career milestones, I'm on their case to start talking with potential mentors.
I recognise the challenge of finding someone who is right for you! It's hard work, so you don't want to waste your courage approaching the wrong person. Here’s a 4x4 plan to help you get started. You can probably expand it (and if so, please share your thoughts in comments), it's unlikely to shrink.
The qualities of a good mentor
- They get you; they believe in you!
- They’ve got the relevant experience to help you (as my friend Judy Fitzgerald says, you don’t visit the butcher to buy bread)!
- They have your interests (not their’s) invested in the process; and they've got the commitment and personality to maintain guidance for agreed period (eg 2-4 months).
- You are comfortable being open and honest with them - they’re objective, and you feel you can trust them.
Qualities of a good mentee*
- A goal and a plan - don’t look to your mentor to find your goal!
- Clarity on what you need - advice, knowledge, introductions
- Open, and able to listen, engage, contemplate and follow through
- Maintain their identity - speak up if advice doesn't sit well and work through other options, rather than abandon process
Find your mentor?
- Research and identify appropriate internal/external people
- Prepare mental or physical checklist of what you need from the mentor
- Be thoughtful about how you will approach potential mentor and then set up the meeting
- During (or shortly after) the meeting, ask for mentorship if they’re the right. Thank them for their time and step away if they’re not.
Establishing a mentoring relationship:
- Be clear on mutual roles and responsibilities
- Discuss your goal and plan, and how you expect the mentor can help you
- Listen to how the mentor offers to help you and what their expectations are
- Commit, stretch and be prepared to work through some discomfort
Importantly, keep the roles of coach and mentor distinct. A coach tends to encourage you to make decisions. A mentor's more likely to cut to the chase and tell you what to do. It’s up to you to remain thoughtful about the advice you’re receiving, so don’t surrender personal responsibility. Throughout this process, your confidence should be growing.
Finally, is it possible that you might make yourself available to be a mentor? Not only is it good karma, but it will help you better understand what it takes to create an effective mentoring relationship.
Image by Jean-Frederic Fortier via Unsplash