Finding mentors: an easy how-to guide

Now that you know how important mentors are to career success, you may be wondering how you can find one of these scarce resources. Good news: they’re not scarce at all!

If you think you cannot find a mentor, you’re looking in the wrong place.  Or more accurately, you aren’t seeing what is already there. We are surrounded by potential mentors and it is up to us to make the most of these resources. Here’s a quick how-to guide:

Find informal mentors

Look around and see who you’d like to emulate. Perhaps they’ve done well and moved up the organization to the highest level.  Perhaps they’re an amazing public speaker, business developer, project manager or whatever.  Ask for a little bit of their time.  It’s easy to reach out and say “I really admired the work you did on X.  It’s something I’m working on developing myself.  Would you be willing to share some insights with me?” Then schedule a 15 minute call, or lunch, or coffee…any time together will work!  Then, when you get that time, be prepared and be curious.  The conversation will flow easily.

Identify mentors-from-afar

This is what I like to call people who you can learn from even if you cannot get one-on-one time with them.  I have many, many of these in my life and career.  I’ve never said to them, “will you mentor me?” I’ve simply noted what I admired about them and tried to absorb some of it. For example, a CEO I worked with from whom I learned to be a better public speaker.  Or the HR director whose motto was ‘never make a decision for the manager, but never let the manager make the wrong decision.’ Boy, I learned a lot about influencing skills from her. Even my mother-in-law, who could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

How can you do this? Say you observe someone in your organization who is great at leading productive meetings. The key word is observe. When you are in a meeting with them, watch and listen to them very closely.  Pretend you are a scientist.  Where do they sit? How do they sit? What do they say? When are they silent? What facial expressions and body language do they use?  Dissect everything.  Now, think about what would happen if you incorporate some of these behaviors into your own style.  Sure, you may have to tweak a little; some you may try and throw out, but I’m absolutely certain you will learn and grow as a result of this.

Allow your manager to mentor you

This may sound obvious to some, odd to others. I cherish almost every one of my past managers as mentors as well, starting with the wonderful woman who gave me my first opportunity in HR and taught me the ropes. In my experience, most managers really want to do more than tell people what to do all day. They enjoy seeing their team members develop and generally get a lot of satisfaction being instrumental in that.  Don’t wait for the once-a-year development discussion.  Continually ask for feedback, suggestions and opportunities to try out new skills.  If you do this in addition to maintaining your normal high performance, your manager will love you and become one of your biggest career advocates.

Raise your hand for formal mentoring programs

We don’t want to forget the formal opportunities that do exist. Find out if there are any formal mentoring programs in your organization, professional association, in your school, in your community, in your church. You might be surprised at what is out there.  Then, find out the criteria for involvement and if it fits, raise your hand!

Now that we’ve adjusted the lens a little bit, are you seeing mentors everywhere? Congratulations!  The next step is easy: name at least one.  I challenge you to take the next 10 minutes and identify at least one person who can be a mentor to you – formally, informally, your manager, or a mentor from afar.  I’ll bet you can do in 1.  Make it a personal goal to learn something demonstrable from them in the next 30 days.  And, let me know…did you do it? What did you learn?  Comment below to share your experience.

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