Getting the Most from a Mentor

Mentor

Last week I posted the first in a 4-week series on Mentors, Coaches, and Sponsors. You can review week 1: Mentors, Coaches, and Sponsors – OH MY! by clicking here. The purpose of this series is to not only cover the important role that all of these can play in the advancement of your career, but also to cover how to find and work with each to get the most of your relationship.

This week, I’m going to focus on Mentors.

As a reminder, a mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. They are someone in your field you admire or they have achieved a level of success you aspire to. I’m not sure who said it but there’s a great quote: “Mentors are angel investors in our souls”.

The primary purpose of a mentor is to guide you to success by allowing you to learn from their triumphs and failures. It’s a perfect scenario, right? You can emulate the things they’ve done right without having to duplicate the things they’ve done wrong.

Attributes & Benefits

A good mentor will give you a reality check. They’ve been in your shoes before and have faced similar challenges. Because of this they can call a spade a spade and can throw a flag when you slip into your fantasy world of how the work place ideally should be instead of how it is.

A good mentor will ask you the hard questions. This will force you to dig deep inside yourself to discover your true motives for your actions and adjust your course accordingly.

When to Seek a Mentor

A mentor is appropriate in just about every stage of your career. Students can seek guidance from professors and others that they admire in their desired field of work on everything from the right courses to take, to the right types of internships to seek out, to which jobs to apply for.

Entry level employees can seek guidance from more seasoned employees within their companies regarding their career path, projects to get involved with, and open opportunities.

It’s always a great idea to seek guidance from successful business owners when you are a business owner yourself.

It’s also a good idea to seek guidance from those who have recently retired when you approach retirement age for their wisdom and lessons learned during the transition.

How to Find a Mentor

Because a mentor is someone you admire or aspire to be like, a mentor can be anyone inside or outside of your field depending upon what you want to be mentored on.

While most of us first consider senior executives as the best mentors, seasoned colleagues should not be overlooked. They can provide a lot of knowledge as long as they aren’t threatened by your ambition. In my experience, I find that colleagues are a lot more likely to be flattered that you would like to be mentored by them then be threatened by your drive. 

Not only do people inside your company make good mentors, so do people at other companies within your industry. There are also local mentoring programs that can suggest mentor/mentee matches.

Regardless of where you look, make sure you select a mentor that is specifically well versed in the area you are looking for assistance.

How to Work with a Mentor

When you make a selection, ask that person for their assistance but be very specific about what you are seeking – don’t make them guess. Tell them what you need assistance with, why you think they are the best fit for you, and what they will get from the relationship. Make sure you set expectations up front about how you will interact and how often you will interact. It is very important to be mindful and respectful of their time.

Typically, a mentor provides support from the kindness of their hearts – which means free. It’s important to note here that it can be really easy to get lopsided in a mentor relationship. What I mean is that it’s really easy for the mentor to do all the giving and the mentee to do all of the taking. You must not allow that to happen.

Never take your mentor for granted. You should constantly thank them for the time and effort they’ve committed to you. A token of gratitude can be verbal thanks yous and heartfelt, handwritten notes. You can take them to lunch or give them a gift certificate to their favorite place. Just make sure it is always clear how much you appreciate their assistance and how much you recognize that they don’t have to do this for you.

Summary

In summary, a mentor is appropriate at any time in your career when you are looking to gain critical skills, navigate challenges at work, or need a sounding board. Mentors are great for talking with you and listening to your needs, giving you perspective, and helping you skill up. The amazing thing about mentor/mentee relationships is that if they are done correctly, they are incredibly valuable and rewarding to both parties and can last for years.

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