Table of contents for Getting and Making Good Use of a Mentor
You may have heard that you should get a mentor to help you grow in your career. Have you gotten one? If not, it’s time to take action.
A mentor is not the same as a coach. Great athletes have coaches. Their coaches can’t outperform them, but they can help improve their performance. A mentor gives advice, imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague. By definition a mentor is someone who is better or more experienced in some area than you are. Unless you’re the smartest, most experienced person on Earth, you could benefit from mentoring.
My mom always told me “There’s always someone better than you and someone worse than you.” Although tempted by both jealousy and arrogance, my aim has been to learn from those who were better and help those who were worse (not that I could always tell which was which). Ever since I learned that there was such a thing as a mentor I’ve sought out people who could advise me in my career. And I’ve sometimes had more than one mentor at a time for different purposes. I personally feel that the advice of mentors has been the single-most important factor in my own career success. This week we’ll explore mentoring, how to get a mentor, and how to make good use of this valuable relationship.
All but one of my mentors was an informal relationship that I sought out, but many companies have formal mentoring programs that will match you to a mentor. Here’s what one study revealed about formal mentoring programs inside of a company:
“. . . formal mentoring programs can reduce turnover, enhance a company’s recruitment efforts, increase the overall performance of a company and create an overall improved work environment, especially for women and people of color,” said Candice Barnhardt, vice president, Nationwide Insurance.
“Will You Be My Mentor Please?”
Of course you shouldn’t just run up to someone and beg them to mentor you! Here’s some guidance on how to get the mentoring you need.
- Start Small. Initially request only one meeting, not a lifelong relationship. If your first encounter goes well you can say “I’ve found our discussion today extremely valuable. Would you be willing to get together again?”
- Make Your Request in Person. Inviting them in person greatly improves the likelihood that they will accept. And don’t even think of sending your request via email!
- Give Them a Graceful Exit. Successful business people are very busy so don’t take it personally if your invitation is rejected. Give them a graceful way to say no.
Why Do You Want a Mentor?
Be prepared to tell people why you want a mentor. What do you hope to learn? Why do you think having a mentor will help? Don’t overlook other paths to business growth, such as participating in professional associations, taking classes, and reading books. Mentoring is not a substitute for learning what you can from these other valuable resources.
They’ll Likely Ask “Why Me?”
Be sure to choose people whom you truly admire. Tell them what wisdom you’d like them to share, what knowledge you’d like to tap into, or what characteristics they possess that you wish to develop in yourself. Explain how you think their experiences could be helpful to you.
What Should You Say?
Here’s a detailed example that you can adapt to your specific situation. “Richard, your presentation at our company meeting was so inspiring, and I admire the way you supported your recommendations with a clear financial analysis. Giving powerful presentations is a talent I’d like to develop in myself. I’ve read a lot on the topic, but I think I could learn a lot from someone like you that I could never learn from a book. I’m sure you’re very busy, but would you be willing to share your experiences with me over a cup of tea sometime?”
You don’t even need to use the word “mentor”. Just ask for some time with a person you admire, ask them open-ended questions, and listen with sincere interest to their stories. Chances are that they will enjoy the experience as much as you do. If, after a couple of meetings, you find you are a great match you can ask them if they’d be willing to meet regularly. Then you can say “I’ve benefited so much from your advice! I think of you as a mentor and I’d like to be able to rely on you in the future to advise me in my career.” If you’ve formed a mutually enjoyable relationship they just might say yes! It’s worked for me over and over again. I’ll share a few of my personal experiences with mentors in my blog posts this week.