It’s a special feeling to find a mentor. Someone who inspires you, drives you, and supports you with their time, knowledge and experience.
Finding a mentor and learning how to foster a productive relationship with them is one of the most influential actions you can take to boost your career and leadership. Here’s why:
1) Having a mentor enables you to have a more successful career.
If you are reading this article, you probably already knew that. But, did you know that this is not just standard advice? The research backs it too!
A meta-analysis study found that mentored professionals are able to advance faster thanks to knowledge and networking opportunities that mentors provide. Another study found that young people who have mentors have challenging and fulfilling job opportunities earlier than their non-mentored peers.
Wow – that’s quite an edge!
2) Mentors have a firm understanding of organisational culture and the personalities of influential people.
This is extremely valuable! Because in many organisations, success depends not only on the quality of your work, but also how well you present yourself and your ideas to the organisation’s executives.
Many busy senior leaders will only respond favorably to work and communication formats that align with their preferences, regardless of what’s being presented to them. Millennials, in particular tend to make the mistake of thinking that if they work hard and offer great ideas, then their ideas will be implemented, and they will be praised.
And while that can be the case in startups, it is not the case in businesses that have hierarchical structures. Mentors can explain what types of ideas are embraced and how to present yourself in the most successful way.
So get strategic with how you present your ideas!
3) Your mentor can increase your job performance.
A Dutch study found that the primary way mentors help you in the workplace is by teaching you how to improve the quality of your work. As experienced professionals, mentors know how to deliver exemplary work efficiently. And the sooner you learn from them, the more you will stand out from the crowd.
Keep reading to learn how to find mentors and develop powerful relationship with them.
Why You’ve Already Met Your Perfect Mentor
When many people decide they want a mentor, they make the mistake of going out and looking for someone new to their networks. They do so by reaching out to people they admire on LinkedIn or attending events in hopes of meeting and asking for help from higher-level professionals they have just met. Too many people make the mistake of seeking out mentoring relationships that aren’t meant to be.
You may need a mentor because you are early in your career, looking to switch jobs, or feel like your growth is stagnating. Your prospective mentors are excelling in their careers and do not have time to invest in strangers. In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, recommends seeking mentorship from people whom you already have a relationship with.
You are much more likely to be successful for a few reasons:
• You are adding a new element to your existing relationship – not forming a new one.
• They have seen your work and know what you are capable of accomplishing.
• If you work with them or have met them through a professional group, they are in an optimal position to help guide your career.
Earning a mentor
According to Diane Schumaker Krieg, the Global Head of Research and Strategy at Wells Fargo, one of the leading American banks, the best way to earn a mentor is to excel in your career.
This may sound counter-intuitive, since the point of getting a mentor is to become more successful. But before people invest time in you, they want to see that you are doing everything in your power to succeed on your own. Showing initiative attracts the right mentors. Make sure you have the skills to be great at what you do and take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate your value and potential growth. When potential mentors see this, they are happy to invest time and energy in you.
Initiating a mentoring relationship with someone you already know and who has seen your work is a simple as asking for their advice on a problem you are facing at work or how you can progress into an area that interests you. If the individual’s response is positive and they offer you essential advice, every so often ask them more questions to evaluate if they seem interested in helping you further. Once you feel the answer is yes, you can take the more significant step of officially asking them to be your mentor and you can formalise the relationship.
How to tell if someone is receptive to being your mentor
If you are struggling to determine if someone wants to be your mentor, global communications consultant, Glenn Leibowitz, says that you can tell by the amount of effort he or she puts into helping you. Someone who is just answering your questions to be polite will give you simple answers and not follow-up. Mentors feel personally invested in your success. So they’ll work with you to help you to solve your challenges and might check in to see how you are progressing. So it’s always nice for you keep to them in the loop.
If you work with multiple people you admire, don’t limit yourself to a single mentor. Reaching out to as many people as relevant and possible increases the benefits of mentoring. Not only because you get a higher quantity of feedback, but also because individual mentors may go through phases when they do not have time to help you. During those periods, having multiple mentors can ensure you are never without the support you need to thrive.
Best Practices for Before, During and After Mentoring Sessions
Once you have landed a mentor (or multiple) you may be wondering how you make the most of your time together? Here are the top things you should do before, during and after your mentoring sessions to ensure you use your mentor’s time efficiently.
One of the most significant mistakes I see mentees make is expecting too much from their mentors. Mentors are busy people who typically don’t have time to answer all of your questions when you want them to answer. They are not there to do the work for you. Use the time wisely to get their thoughts and advice at a strategic level.
At the beginning of your mentoring relationship, ask your mentor how often they want to meet and how much time they have available for those meetings. Before sessions, prioritize what you want to talk about so you have time to address your most important issues in your meetings.
To best utilize your mentor’s time, you need to come prepared to facilitate a meaningful conversation. Don’t expect them to offer you great advice unprompted. According to mentoring expert, Jo Miller, there are four types of questions you should ask your mentor:
• “Stories:” Ask them to tell stories about their own life so that you can learn from their experiences.
• “Situation:” If you are unsure how to deal with a situation, ask your mentor what they would do.
• “Self-Awareness:” Often it can be hard to see ourselves. Ask your mentor for their opinions about your traits, performance, or other personal attributes. Your mentor’s views about you will help you become more self-aware.
• “Skill-Building:” Chances are you need to develop new skills to advance your career. Ask your mentor what skills you should focus on and what are the best resources available for you to learn those skills.
If you agree with their suggestions, apply them as quickly as possible and be sure to share the results at your next meeting.
Acting on your mentor’s advice shows them that you value the opinions they are giving you. However, you do not need to follow their advice 100% of the time. If your mentor suggests something you strongly disagree with, don’t do it. Explain to them why you decided their suggestion was not a good option for you.
How to Give Back to Your Mentor
Mentoring is a two-way relationship. While you may think you have nothing to offer, it is crucial that you find ways to create value for your mentor. Here are a few ideas:
1. Be Successful. The best way to give back is by being successful and showing that their time and guidance has made a difference!
2. Support their work or their charity involvements. Can you write them a testimonial on Linkedin? Can you share your experience of them in a public arena? Could you promote their charity work to your networks?
3. Share your perspective on topics where you have valuable knowledge to contribute. The prime example of this is with technology. If your mentor is several years older than you, they may have difficulty keeping up with the latest technology. You can step in to help them adapt. Offering your perspective on tasks they are working on can add value by assisting them to see their work in the eyes of someone who lacks their professional experience but may be knowledgeable in other areas.
4. Nominate them for an award. Put them forward to show you value their time and expertise.
Keep in mind that developing a mentoring relationship is an ongoing process that takes time. Before most people agree to mentor you, they need to see your personality and work style to know whether or not you would be a good fit as a mentee.
Now over to you: who do you have in your network that would be a great mentor?