Mentoring is a tricky thing: most people want it, but don’t know how to get it. Mentoring is also loosely defined. Just because someone gives you advice, doesn’t mean they are your mentor. Mentoring is a responsibility; a commitment that requires valuable time and focused attention to assure the mentee’s goals are progressing forward. If you have one steady mentor that is adding value to your career and life, you’re fortunate. Although finding a mentor is difficult and making it work is even more challenging – the rewards are abundant.
As a mentor of two younger professionals, I must prepare myself for each conversation. When someone outside of your immediate family depends on you for advice, wisdom and know-how – it comes with tremendous responsibility. They depend on you and watch your every more. They are curious and feel connected to you. The more I mentor, I realize this relationship is more serious than most think – especially given the uncertainty and lack of trust that clouds our society. How you find a mentor, reaping its rewards and paying it forward represents the many facets of this relationship.
Here are five ways to secure a meaningful mentor and make it matter:
1. Know Your Needs and Be Committed
Once you know what you want from a mentor, you can begin your search. Much like you match job opportunities with your qualifications, you must do the same with a mentor. Only you know what your goals, desires, dreams and aspirations are and what type of person can help you get there.
Commit yourself to the search and don’t get distracted. While I realize that finding a mentor can happen serendipitously – you must create the opportunity. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you are stuck:
• Do I associate myself with the right people? Do they add-value to my career?
• Do I belong to the right networking groups? Am I challenging myself or do I just go with the flow?
• How did my colleagues find their mentors?
• What did it feel like the last time I had a boss who invested in my growth and who helped me figure things out?
These questions will help calibrate your thinking and get you on the right track. Be committed and take your time. Understand why a mentor would be important for you and equally begin to think what value you can add to this relationship.
Mentors do not have to be from the same industry, gender or generation. Open your mind to new possibilities by working outside of your comfort zone.
2. Invest and Be Responsible
Now that you know your needs and what you can bring to the table, begin to explore where your mentor can be found. For example, five years ago – I made a career shift and decided to become an author/thought-leader. I had the credentials but didn’t have the right network. I also needed to find a person or two that had experienced what it meant to be a thought-leader. I decided to invest and attend a conference where a notable thought-leader (whose story was similar to mine) was delivering a keynote. After his speech, he offered the following to the audience of 500 people, “If you need any help in your journey – I will give you my card if you send me a one-sentence overview that tells me how you think I can help you.” I was 1 of roughly 100 people that obtained his card. As I found out later, I was the only person that sent him an email that was clear, focused and responsible. Not only did Robert become a mentor, he invited me to a CEO Forum where he introduced me to several people. Two of them are my mentors today.
You must invest in yourself to find the right mentor. Know your needs and how someone can serve in this capacity. You must be honest with yourself. Learn to be vulnerable.
3. Be Accountable to Yourself and Others
To this day, Robert has been a tremendous mentor. Throughout this journey he has taught me many lessons about mentoring. His top lesson: be accountable to yourself and others that can benefit from the lessons learned. In other words, don’t be selfish – and share your hard work and progress. Your mentor is not a “shrink” – she is someone who is helping you progress forward in your career. Be mindful that your mentor is monitoring your progress and when you slip, they begin to reevaluate the time they commit to this precious relationship.
For example, my mentor Rich and I have a special bond. He knows me well and pushes my buttons. He works to make me better by stretching my thinking; introducing me to new ways of doing things better. Not only do I accept the challenge (even when I may not agree with it), but after seeing the results – I then share my experience with others that can benefit from them. Because Rich is responsible with his role as my mentor, he is not selfish and opens new doors of opportunity as he takes note of my progress; opportunities that have allowed me to meet new potential mentors along the way.
4. Be Selfless and Create Opportunities for Your Mentor
Making the mentor relationship work requires you to equally create new opportunities for your mentor. The mentor-mentee relationship represents two-sides of the same coin (this is an unwritten rule in mentorship). Make it a point to create opportunities for your mentor. They can also use your help, regardless of their success. Get to know their business and their personal goals more closely. Listen and take note of their needs. Be selfless. A good mentor appreciates it when you can reciprocate.
Think of ways you can add-value to the relationship beyond sharing the success stories you have created from their goodwill. Buy them a book, send them a link to an article, connect them with a friend or someone that can add-value to their goals. Create opportunities for your mentor and manage them closely. This is why the best mentoring relationships last a lifetime. Because what is being formed is a special kind of trust that you both greatly appreciate and respect.
5. Make the Relationship Endless
This is more difficult than you might think. As time passes on, your life evolves, your needs change and the desire for a new mentor may become apparent. However, the mentors that helped you grow and prosper should never be ignored. In fact, there exists the likelihood that you will have outgrown the need for a particular mentor. This is when you reach the point of role reversal. This is another unwritten rule – but the most important one.
Though you may now have different mentors, the relationships you formed with those from the previous chapters in your life must remain active. For example, my friend Mark will always be considered a mentor from the earlier years in my career. Though he may not be the right mentor for my needs today, I continue to live the lessons that he taught me and remind him of how he has shaped my life and success. Today, Mark is one of my best friends. His wisdom is still enriching and valuable – but it is the relationship we now have that extends within our families that makes it special.
How you set-forth the expectations of what you seek from a mentor on the front end, allows you to effectively manage the mentor relationship. You are better equipped to create the opportunity to find many mentors and make them matter. It takes time and requires a commitment to know your needs, act responsibly, be accountable and selfless and to assure the relationship lasts a lifetime. This approach allows you to cultivate a perpetual harvest of mentors that benefit you and those around you greatly.