I love a good "bottom-line up front". It means to get to the point quickly so here it is:
"The research on the power of mentorship is pretty clear: People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even experience more work-life satisfaction." (Harvard Business Review).
Do you have a mentor? Not just someone who has occasionally given you good advice or supported your career. Rather, someone you meet with regularly with a specific purpose of advancing your knowledge and skills in a particular area. Do you have a mentor like that?
If you said no. You’re not alone. Very few of us have formal mentors yet the benefits are unquestionable. So why not?
I believe it is because we haven’t been taught how to engage with one. I’ve never seen a high school or college course on how to do it and it’s a rare find in an organization to have a structure matching program, let alone one with a sound curriculum instructing mentors and mentees on what to do.
As with most of our career development, it is up to us to develop ourselves. Mentoring is an effective tool to not just support our career but even expedite our career advancement.
It doesn’t matter what level you’re at either. Mentors are not just for junior staff. In fact, as you move along in your career having a mentor becomes more important as the requirements of higher-level roles shift.
For example, in the early stages of your career, it’s about what you can do and the tasks you perform. As your scope of responsibility, knowledge, and experience grows, it’s less about task and more about relationships. Mentors help greatly with navigating that shift.
Here’s what to do.
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 how to navigate politics in the organization?
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. Meeting will be no longer than 60 minutes each.”
Make it easy for the mentor. “I will schedule the meetings and send to you my questions in advance so that you can prepare.”
This is a formal approach to establishing mentorship. The benefit is that it defines roles and expectations from the start. 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).
Now, go out and connect with your mentor. It’s worth it.
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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. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.
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