A couple of weeks ago, a friend came up to me and said Paul I really want to find a mentor. I need someone, whom I can trust and help me navigate through the organizational politics, put a perspective on the challenges and opportunities I am facing and help connect me to other people inside and outside the organization. He asked me how to go about this.
A great question, as I have met many people who had similar needs but didn’t know whom to or how to approach a potential mentor due to the fear of being rejected. Whatever the reason here are a number of steps for getting a mentor:
Step 1: Know What You Want
My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Start with The End In Mind”. The same applies when finding a mentor. Know yourself and know what you are looking for. What do you want a mentor to help you with? Is it networking, office politics, feedback, new ideas on that project you are working on, work – life balance questions, career counseling or all of those above. The more specific you are, the easier it is to identify an individual that can help you.
Health warning: only use a mentor for personal learning, growth and reflection. Don’t use a mentor as a shortcut for promotion, as it will surely come back flying in your face.
Step 2: Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Knowing what you want from the mentor relation will help you identify the expertise, relations and experiences you are looking for in a mentor. If for example you are a mechanical engineer working in a fertilizer plant who has the ambition and skill to move to general management but you lack specific financial or business-2-business experience, you should find a person in the company who can guide you and give you insight in your area of interest , how to move in that role and aspects to consider when trying to transit.
Don’t restrict yourself to your own department/company. Look outside, who are role models in your field of work, who are the leading experts. Check your LinkedIn network, talk to friends, senior colleagues, executives in your company. Ask them who they think could be the best person to help you in your quest to become better and grow. Or better yet approach the person who you have always looked up to.
Be bold go outside your comfort zone and pick the best there is.
Step 3: Get Introduced
If you have zeroed in on a potential mentor who you don’t know yourself then the best way to get connected is by being introduced. Approach someone who can help you get introduced to the individual you are inclined towards speaking with. The change of getting a positive answer by cold calling in my experience is close to ‘zero’. I personally have never ever been successful in pitching to a person who I have not been introduced to, or who has heard about me. I also don’t react on any approaches I get from people that I don’t know.
Work the network and get people to introduce you to your ideal mentor.
Step 4: Be Interesting and Give Back
As much as you want to learn from a mentor, you have to make it worthwhile for the mentor to be willing to invest in the relation. I personally would never be able to mentor a person who is mundane and dull. Make it interesting, give back to the mentor, and help him with experiences or skills that he doesn’t have. You have to create a relationship that is worthwhile for both.
In the late 90’s the CEO of a global company took it upon himself to mentor a number of young trainees who recently joined the company. Of course the trainees were delighted to be mentored by the global CEO, but it was not his altruistic motives that were at play here. He had a clear intention to gain as well from the relationship as he wanted to understand how young people interacted and used new technology (this was the height of the dotcom area for those of you who remember).
Step 5: You Are Responsible
Finally don’t forget the number one rule of the mentor – mentee relationship: the mentee is responsible! He/she is responsible for making sure the meetings are organized and taking place, actions are being followed up and in general make sure the relation continues to flourish. If you do this well the relationship will surely last a career and be ‘priceless’.
Next week: Why Should You Become A Mentor?
– Paul Keijzer