One thing I love about my job is that I get to talk to so many people who are doing amazing things in their jobs. When I ask them, to whom or what they attribute their previous successes to their answer often involves having had strong mentors.
A good mentor can help you be a better planner, a clearer thinker, and, in short, an high-performing professional.
Mentors offer experience, coaching, networking, introspection, recognition, encouragement, support, and sometimes just fun and friendship.
But it’s up to the mentee to find and nurture that relationship.
Because most of the clients I work with (and possibly you) are in the mentee position, I decided to curate some best practices and valuable advice to be aware of before you approach a possible mentor.
1) Let It Evolve Naturally Over Time
The best relationships are the ones that create themselves and evolve naturally over time. When you ask someone to be your mentor, you should already know the answer is yes.
In the book ‘Lean Forward’, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says: “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.”
Start by looking among the people you’re already interacting and working with now. Your ideal mentors are those to whom you’ve already demonstrated your potential – who know how you think, act, communicate and contribute.
2) It’s About Honesty And Transparency
The value of a great mentor is really about their abilities as a person, and not their position or title. Keep that in mind as you’re looking for the right person to develop this relationship with.
Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest once said that “if you have a mentor that isn’t the most forward thinking or honest, I think that can be a bad thing.” I agree with her and believe that if the relationship isn’t based on honesty and transparency then it’s likely not worth the time and may possibly even lead you in the wrong direction.
3) Something You Do, Not Something You Get
Mentorship is something you do, not something you get. In other words, like all relationships, it is a process, not an accomplishment. Mentorship is a flexible and often informal relationship that can vary from person to person and field to field – you might be able to refer to yourself as a mentee but it looks nowhere near as official as that while it is happening.
Bestselling author Ryan Holiday suggests that “while you are looking for a mentorship, never actually use the word. Don’t ask anyone to be your mentor, don’t talk about mentorships. No one goes out and asks someone they’re attracted to be their boyfriend or girlfriend – that’s a label that’s eventually applied to something that develops over time. Mentorship is the same way.
4) Don’t Limit Yourself
Your mentor doesn’t have to be a CEO or a big shot. Your mentor doesn’t need to work in your industry or even be well-connected within it, though that could certainly be helpful.
Having a mentor is about so much more than career advancement. A great mentor will also help you develop into a better thinker, problem-solver, and teammate.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and yours could come from anywhere – a teacher, a coach, a retiree, a parent – the list goes on. So stay open-minded and look all around you, not just in your organization or line of work.
5) Demonstrate Your Commitment
Relationships take work, and mentorships are no different. Your mentor may not be your manager, but she or he isn’t your buddy either. Don’t blow off lunch dates or fail to follow through on things you say you’ll do. Show gratitude and respect for your mentor’s experience, wisdom, and support.
At times, it might feel like you’re doing more taking than giving in the relationship, but the best mentors realize they can learn from the experience, too, so be an active participant – not just an empty glass waiting to get filled with knowledge.
Here is what’s key. When a strong mentor candidate materializes, you have to be prepared to listen and take it seriously when he or she weighs in on where you need to improve. Plus, the mentor relationship is only worthwhile if you’re ready to speak openly and honestly about your dreams, fears, and limitations, and you have to be willing to try new things, learn, and grow.
Your leadership coach,