You need a mentor. Actually mentors. We all do! As you move through the various stages of your career and life, seeking out the folks who have been there before, and had the success you desire, can be extremely valuable. Having walked the path ahead of you, they can point out both the stepping stones and the pitfalls they identified along the way. Beyond that, they can be a sounding board for ideas, a reassuring voice in difficult times, and a key to your personal growth and development. You have to use them effectively however, if you want to achieve those goals. I’ve been blessed to have mentors who are leaders in my industry, successful CEOs in other professions, and people who are influential in areas of personal interest. Through these experiences, I’ve learned (sometimes by stumbling) some best practices to engage and enhance these relationships.
Here are 5 ways I’ve had success maximizing relationships with my mentors:
1. Be Official – to get the most out of your mentor, they should know that they are in fact a mentor to you. Seems simple, but its an often missed step that limits the heights these relationships can achieve. Once you’ve identified someone you would like to have as a mentor, take them to lunch and formally ask them to be one. Outline the goals you have in working with them, lay out a proposed regular meeting schedule, and a timeframe you’d like to initially set. They are more likely to agree to a defined plan, and this structure helps to set reasonable expectations for each party. The more established the individual is in the community/profession, the greater the need for this step.
2. Build Rapport – your relationship with your mentor is fundamentally just like any other relationship. It takes common experience, connection, communication, and trust to reach its fullest potential. Spend the time to find ways to relate and connect personally before diving into work related conversation. Then go back and hit on those touch points each time you meet. Caring for one another as individuals leads to caring for one another’s’ professional success.
3. Listen for Learning – you entered into this mentor-mentee relationship to learn from them so be sure you’re intentional about doing so. Come prepared for each session with thoughtful, specific questions about what you want to learn from their experiences. Then really listen to their answers. Make notes, ask clarifying questions, and pursue the topic until you have the full picture. After the meeting, review your notes and put the tips you gleaned into practice. When you have success based on their suggestions, send them a handwritten note detailing how they impacted you. They will be more open to sharing, and you’ll gain even more wisdom.
4. Branch Out – having a mentor or two within your industry or profession is smart and can serve you well for understanding the organization and perhaps advancement. But why limit yourself? Oftentimes, the greatest opportunity for growth comes through new experiences and education in other fields. The most innovative and successful ideas I’ve had for my business have all come during or after examining something outside of my scope. Having a mentor from another field will challenge you and grow you in ways that will surprise.
5. Win Together – be a giver, not just a taker. Yes, your mentor has more experience and likely more success than you’ve had. Yes, they probably took you on from a sense of giving back as someone once did for them. There is no reason that you can’t enhance and help them as well though. Ask what things they struggle with, how you could specifically help, or what people/businesses they are trying to connect with. Perhaps you can share perspective on why their younger employees are responding a certain way, help them network through a connection you have, or be a sounding board for them. It takes a while to get to this point in the relationship, but if you can deliver wins for them, it will only serve to make the experience richer for each of you.
Don’t have a mentor? Go find one by approaching someone you respect and asking them to spend an hour a month to help you grow. Be smart and selective, but be open about what your goals are and why you’re asking them. They will be flattered and will either say yes or refer you to someone they think might be better suited. If you really want to grow, be a mentor yourself! Look around your office and find someone who you think could benefit from your own experiences. Offer to take them under your wing. You’ll find it a tremendous way to grow personally and professionally.