Mentoring is always a popular topic when it comes to leadership development. Mentoring, in it’s traditional form, provides the chance for lesser experienced professionals to develop a relationship with established or senior leaders in the same organization, profession, or region. When a mentoring relationship is working properly the mentee is gaining guidance, perspective, and knowledge from a trusted and capable advisor. The mentor is enjoying the opportunity to challenge, nurture, and develop another person, sharing their wisdom along the way.
I can’t think of any person or profession that wouldn’t benefit from having a mentor. Having a trusted advisor can be a powerful way to examine weaknesses and missteps, de-brief challenging situations or interactions, and explore professional growth and development.
It’s important to remember that a mentor is not a coach (although some mentors take on this role willingly). It’s someone you respect that you wish to learn from. Also a mentor is typically someone that does not have responsibility for your performance at work. Some boss’s end up as mentors, but it’s not the same job description.
While many organizations establish and facilitate mentoring programs, often it falls to the individual to establish mentoring relationships. This doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Is there a professional around you that you respect? Someone that you’d value learning from, that possesses some insight or experience that you’d like to tap into conversationally? Take a look around and identify those who fit this description and consider asking them if they will serve as a mentor.
If you decide to approach someone about working with you in this way, be sure to define specifically what you’re asking them for. Simply asking someone to be your mentor is ambiguous. The person you’ve identified may hesitate due to a lack of understanding of the role or the time commitment. Explain the reasons you are approaching them and what specifically you’re asking for: “I really respect your knowledge and experience and where your career has taken you. Can I ask you to have coffee with me once every 2-3 months so I can pick your brain?”
If they say yes, you’re on your way. If they say no, they weren’t going to be a very good mentor for you anyway. Remember to start slowly. When you get together come armed with a few questions. Ask for feedback and advice. Ask them to help you brainstorm around a problem or situation you’re facing. Always, always, always be sure to thank them for their time. And mean it.