In my last blog I told the story of my first mentor when I was a seventh grade kid in rural North Carolina. I didn’t find Barry Wheeler; he found me, and I’m grateful that he did. Since then I’ve come to understand the value of having a mentor, wherever I am in my career, and so I’ve made it my business to make sure there is someone in my life that I see as my mentor. Sometimes that person may know that I view them as a mentor; sometimes they may not. Whether the relationship with your mentor is formal or less so, the important thing is that you have one.
How to Start a Mentor Relationship
How does one go about finding and starting a mentor relationship? Perhaps these suggestions will help.
- Pick a mentor you trust. The best mentoring relationships allow you to be completely honest, even when you’re not at your best. If you can’t trust your mentor to keep your confidences to themselves, find another mentor.
- Pick a mentor you respect and admire. A mentor who has accomplishments you might like to emulate will be more inspiring.
- Pick a mentor who is wise. Wisdom is the principled, practical application of knowledge. Usually wisdom is gained by experience; neophytes are less likely to be good mentors.
- Pick a mentor who is apt to teach. Trustworthy, admirable people may still not make the best mentors if they lack the knack for helping you learn from their experience and wisdom.
- Pick a mentor who is available. You can’t learn much from a mentor who is too busy to connect on a regular basis.
- Ask your selected mentor for a bit of time. You can ask for this formally, as in “Would you be willing to mentor me once a month for the coming year?” Or you can make it less formal, as in “I would love to go to lunch with you every month or so, just to talk. My treat!”
- Be specific about what you expect. Disclose what you hope to gain out of a relationship with the mentor. And don’t forget: this relationship is a two-way street. Give back by being prepared, interested, and engaging.
- Meet as regularly as possible. Better mentoring relationships happen when both parties set aside a regular meeting time. And, by the way, those meetings don’t have to be face-to-face. I tend to prefer in-person relationships, but a virtual relationship, conducted via phone or video conference, can suffice.
- Prepare. Have a topic you’re really interested in to discuss. Use current challenges in your job for raw material. Or identify a real strength your mentor has, and ask good questions about that special attribute.
- Listen. Mentoring means learning, and learning requires paying attention with active listening.
When we began designing the Leaders Ought To Know® initiative, I suggested that participants should connect with a mentor in addition to engaging in the monthly videos and weekly Learning Activities. This has turned out to be a very powerful part of Leaders Ought To Know®. Some customers have formalized the mentor relationship, assigning the most senior executives in their organization as mentors to people who are going through the program. Other customers leave it to the individual participant to find their own mentor. In either case, we’ve now built into the program at least one Learning Activity each month that focuses on a topic for discussion with the mentor. We’ve even had people tell us this is the most important part of the program to them.
However you do it, make sure you have someone in your life that you look to as a mentor. And don’t forget that you can serve as a mentor to someone else, just as you yourself are being mentored.
What Would You Say?
Concerning the ten guidelines to start a mentor relationship, what tips would you add to the list? Please share.