This week, someone asked me an interesting question: “What if you don’t need any more mentors?” That was a tough question for me because I find huge value in mentorship. I love finding great mentors and, in turn, being the best mentor I can. I cannot imagine my life without mentors or mentees. These relationships are critical to my development as an individual and as a leader. Here is how I view the process of finding and developing mentors:
- Identifying a mentor-type. This is the most important step in all of this. In order to have a successful mentorship relationship, you must find someone who 1) wants to be your mentor; 2) is worthy to be your mentor; and 3) is able to be your mentor. How do you find this person? You must know yourself well enough to know what you need (see my blog post on Self Reflection). In knowing yourself, you become aware of where you are headed. Then you must observe those around you. The best mentor for you is someone who has reached some or all the goals you have set for yourself in a way that you respect. The person must want to be a mentor (otherwise it is like pulling teeth to get any kind of support) and have the skills to be a mentor. Finding someone who can teach you in a way the works best for you is so valuable! Look for someone further along the path toward your goals, whose personality meshes with yours, who can teach you in a way that you can learn, and who is interested in nurturing your skills, talents, and dreams.
- The approach. The most uncomfortable part of the mentorship process can be the approach. How do you approach someone who is further along their career path and say “Hey! I want to be like you when I grow up,” in a way that is professional and not embarrassing? It’s tough. I have used a wide variety of approaches, but the core elements have been pretty similar. I find that when you tell someone you respect their work and want to learn from them, they’re pretty receptive. Most people enjoy compliments and want to pass along their knowledge. In addition, folks who are higher up the ladder typically get complaints, not appreciation or respect.
- You. So, maybe I went out of order a bit, but I think it is important to comment that if you approach a potential mentor and have not become their ideal mentee, the approach will probably fail. How do you become the ideal mentee? First, you must be yourself. Mentorship does not work if you are pretending to be someone else. Second, you must work to consistently be the person you want to be as you move forward in your career. Show what you value, do good work, and develop relationships with the people you respect. If you can, distinguish yourself in some way that your potential mentor values. It is so much easier if your potential mentor approaches you because she has noticed your good work, rather than you having to make the initial contact.
- The relationship. When the approach has been made and you have made your potential mentor into your actual mentor, it is important to nurture the relationship appropriately. Make sure you communicate your needs appropriately, respect your mentor’s boundaries, and incorporate their advice into your work. Your mentor does not want his time wasted by you constantly nagging him, asking for help in a non-specific way, and then not even doing what he tells you to do.
I have found in my journey that most of the best mentorship relationships have seemed to happen naturally. I have made sure to observe the folks around me and become clear on who I admire and why. I am very thoughtful about how a potential mentor treats peers, superiors, and those who are on the way up. I put myself in their path in a positive way and find a way to get connected.
In my mentors, I value someone who is able to teach in a supportive way and is willing to share her secrets. I also value honesty and strength. I don’t want someone who will just tell me I’m amazing (although, I have to admit, that is a little bit of a prerequisite for me – they have to think I am worthwhile, too). I want someone to challenge me while helping me move forward.
Mentors give you the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, capitalize on their wisdom, and have support from someone who has truly been there. Mentors are invested in you and can give you opportunities you may not develop on your own. I know that my career has taken the shape it has due to the support of my mentors. My mentors help me to decide on prudent next steps as well as to develop the skills I need to take those steps. They are teachers, coaches, nurturers, and, eventually, valued colleagues. I have learned to become a mentor through their mentorship. SO… stay tuned for the next blog on how to become a mentor for others.
Find your path to mentorship!
If you would like support in identifying and approaching mentors, please feel free to call or email me: 424-241-3205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.