Ask any prominent business person about her success, and she will admit she didn’t make it on her own. She will likely cite two or three people who were instrumental in her career growth. People who invested in and mentored her. Even the “self-made” man or woman is influenced by someone.
That said, it’s not always easy to find a good mentor. It takes effort and intentionality; you can’t just sit and wait for someone suitable to come along. And while there’s no standard method for finding a mentor, there are some general guidelines that can direct your search.
Choose someone you want to be like.
It’s easy to only think in terms of job function when you start looking for a mentor. But don’t just look for someone with the job you have or desire to have, but look for someone who embodies the qualities you admire and desire. Take some time to find out a little bit about him. Read his articles, blog, or books. Talk to people who have worked with him. Gather some general knowledge about his person and activities. Does he stand for the same things you do?
Ask for a meeting.
Ask the person out for coffee or something low-key. And don’t ask right off the bat to be mentored. Neither of you knows enough about each other at this stage to make that kind of commitment. Rather get to know the person. It’s good to come prepared with questions, but keep it conversational and informal. This is about relationship building, not just data gathering.
Evaluate your interaction.
Was it a positive meeting? Did you enjoy each other’s company? Was he open and receptive? Did you come away feeling encouraged? If not, don’t try to force the relationship. A healthy mentorship is based on mutual respect and trust that grows over time. It can’t be strong-armed or manufactured. If the meeting went well, ask for a follow-up.
Ask for a mentorship.
Mentoring is about relationship, but there is a formal element to it. You want to be coached, counseled, and advised. And you should expect to be challenged and stretched. So you should make a formal request to your prospective mentor. There should be a mutual agreement and understanding as to the nature of your relationship and the time commitment involved.
Commit to the process.
Mentoring doesn’t happen in a couple of months. This is an active, long term process. You need to meet with your mentor regularly and complete whatever tasks she assigns. Remember the idea is professional and personal growth, and this requires time and labor. Ask for feedback, and be prepared to accept it and act on it. It’s difficult to receive criticism, even constructive criticism, but that’s part of what you signed up for. That means you can’t check out when the going gets rough. You have to stick with it. This is often when the real growth begins to occur. So commit to cultivating the relationship and doing the required work. It may not always be easy, but it’s definitely rewarding.
Do you have a mentor? Or are you a mentor? What have you learned from the experience?
* Photo Credit: Brian Ujiie (Creative Commons)