Forget all the “bootstraps” stories with which we Westerners love to amuse ourselves. No one has ever achieved any level of commercial or material success without help from someone else. That’s the main reason of “why you need a mentor.”
Here are the little whys.
A Mentor Knows Things You Don’t
A qualified mentor has experience and knowledge that surpasses yours, and she’s willing to share. This is not to be taken lightly. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when someone is inclined to show us how. Want to break into a particular field? Learn the right way to ask for a raise? Position yourself for a promotion? Be considered for that high-visibility assignment? A mentor who’s been there can help.
A Mentor Knows People You Don’t
A mentor can introduce you to others who may be able to provide guidance, advice, information, or even access to still more, helpful people.
A Mentor Can Offer Perspective
Even the most gifted problem solver can get stuck when she’s too close to an issue or has been pondering it too intensely for too long. A good mentor can help you get unstuck by presenting an alternate perspective. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with your mentor’s view, hearing another opinion can help confirm your position while providing food for thought.
A Mentor Can Offer Encouragement
Before transitioning from editorial into human resources, I ran the idea by my mentor Caroline, a veteran trainer. I thought I’d pitch my administrative, organizational, research, and writing talents to the President of the company where I worked, but having no HR background whatsoever, I lacked confidence this was truly a good idea. In fact, I was almost ready to bag the whole thing! To my surprise, Caroline encouraged me to go for it. Her enthusiasm bolstered my confidence, I made the pitch, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s no secret that far too few employers offer formal development programs, including formal mentoring programs. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Potential mentors are everywhere. Here’s how to nab yourself one.
You can’t meet people if you don’t put yourself out there, so make it a point to mix it up every now and again. Go to that professional seminar. Volunteer for your neighborhood Yard Sale Committee. Join groups on LinkedIn that speak to your interests and start participating. The next time your friend or professional acquaintance mentions so-and-so who does such-and-such (and you’ve been wanting to meet someone who does such-and-such) ask for an introduction.
Don’t Force It
Once you meet a potential mentor, don’t force the issue. Chemistry and mutual interests must be genuine. If you’re being friendly, but something seems off, scratch that person from your mental list. He or she most likely isn’t the mentor for you. Those willing to mentor are special kinds of folks. They have a sharing personality. Not everyone does.
Test the Waters
Let’s say you met a potential mentor at a professional workshop. You talked a bit, and the chemistry is good.
The next step is to invite the individual out for coffee or lunch (your treat) and see what happens. Does he or she accept the invitation but then cancel at the last minute … a few times? Say yes to the idea but never respond to your follow up email messages? Move on. This guy or gal is not mentor material.
On the other hand, what if you have coffee with your potential mentor, but the conversation seems stilted or awkward? Again, move on. You’re looking for a genuine connection, here. A forced anything just won’t do.
Don’t Get Discouraged
The world is full of flakes, phonies, narcissists, and folks just too busy to extend themselves. Don’t get discouraged when a relationship that seemed promising fizzles. It happens, but there’s a mentor out there for you.
Remember the Rule of Reciprocity
Be prepared to give as good as you get. By definition the mentor is more experienced and knowledgeable than you, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. Be a listening ear to your mentor. Be good company. As your relationship progresses, the student may become the teacher!
Having a good mentor and professional development goes hand in hand. In the meantime, why not take a look inside yourself and discover what drives you and what you can do to ensure your own personal and professional growth.