I've written a lot lately about coaching and while it is an important activity for anyone’s growth and development, it is not the only approach.
Mentoring can be equally as powerful, but it is very different from coaching. You can find a robust article about coaching here but in a nutshell, a coach is someone to help you make a change in the way you think or act. They will not tell you what to do but rather ask questions to help you discover how to make that change independently.
A mentor is someone who has experience and expertise to share and you specifically want to learn from their experience. While age is often implied in mentoring, meaning the mentor is often older; that isn’t always the case. It is about experience and someone younger may have the experience you are seeking. Such as, young Baby Boomers partnering with old Gen Z’ers for advice on how to use social media and more importantly, how to get in on Clubhouse. This is often called Reverse Mentoring and this 4-minute TEDTalk has some great advice.
The research is compelling. People who have mentors experience improved performance and job satisfaction and the mentors feel more organizational commitment and career success. Mentoring gives the mentor and mentee meaning to their work. It is not just a transfer of skills and experience, rather a connection between two people centered on something positive. It is chalk full of the elements of PERMA.
So, who is your mentor?
If you said you don’t have one, you are not alone. Many people don’t. I didn’t either until yesterday. Clearly, the inspiration for this blog post is fresh.
Because so many people don’t have a mentor and the benefits are clear, this week we explore in more detail how to find and connect with one.
Define Your Objective
Before seeking out the mentor, determine what you want to accomplish first. Is there a skill you want to improve like strategic thinking? Or would you like exposure to executive decision-making? Maybe you would like to learn more about how senior leaders navigate politics at another organization? This would mean you are seeking a mentor outside of your current institution.
Whatever the case, define your goal for a mentoring relationship and what questions you initially want to ask the mentor. Do not approach a mentor without a clear objective or a statement of what you want to learn. Potential mentors are often busy people. The mentoring meetings need to be a valuable use of everyone’s time.
Always Be Looking
It may take time to find an ideal mentor so always be looking for one. Pay attention to people who demonstrate the skills you aspire to possess. Look for people who have advanced in a career that you are pursuing. Meet them, get a feel for who they are, and if they are someone from whom you would like to learn. Rapport is important for mentoring.
Avoid “cold calling” a mentor. This means, asking for mentorship from someone you have never met. Like any “cold call”, it is very easily ignored or declined when there is no relationship to preserve.
If there is someone you would appreciate mentorship from, but you have never met them, find out who in your network is connected and look for ways to be introduced. Google them and learn about who they are what additional experience they have. Also, inquire from others if the person you admire would be a good mentor. Not everyone is. Mentoring is really about learning and both parties (the mentee and mentor) will get the most benefit if they have a learning mindset.
Ask for Mentoring
Once you have defined your objective and met a potential mentor, it is time to ask. Send an email and feel free to generally follow this format:
Describe what it is you admire about the mentor. Be sincere, this isn’t flattery. It is concise acknowledgement of their expertise.
Inquire about establishing the relationship and describe specifically what you seek to learn. “Would you be willing to work with me as a mentor? I would like to learn about your experience… I would also appreciate your advice and guidance on…”
Set a timeframe for the engagement and a cadence for meetings. Such as, “I would like to meet once per month for 5 months. Meetings will be no longer than 60 minutes each.”
Make it easy for the mentor. “I will schedule the meetings and send my questions in advance so that you can prepare.”
This may feel somewhat formal but the benefit is that it clarifies expectations from the start. Everyone understands the purpose, how long the engagement will last, and what the meetings will look like. the mentee must then deliver on these expectations by scheduling promptly and arriving to each meeting prepared.
In some cases, the engagement will become less formal as the relationship develops over time. Many mentoring relationships turn into lifelong friendships.
Mentoring is an important development tool and available to anyone. You do not need to be a member of an exclusive leadership development program or identified as a rising, emerging, high-potential, or any other type of leader (this refers to the labels often used in organizations to determine who receives mentoring and who does not).
This is the exact approach I used to connect with my mentor. While we won’t begin meeting until March, I am thrilled to have connected with her and look forward to learning. And, in all honesty, I am proud of myself for taking the initiative to advance my own growth and development.
It’s your turn.
Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. Amy is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.