Everyone needs a mentor, but based on the comments and questions I receive almost weekly there are a lot of people out there who have some misperceptions about the types of mentors they need and how to ultimately develop a relationship with a mentor.
Recently someone posted this comment in response to my article on 5 reasons why everyone needs a mentor, and it really stopped me in my tracks and highlighted a few myths that get in the way of young professionals (or anyone for that matter) in successfully finding and developing relationships with mentors.
"I have always thought I need to reach a certain stage in my education or career for me to be able to develop a relationship with a mentor. I have felt I need to show some level of accomplishment if someone is to agree to mentor me".
Myth No 1: I must have a lot of experience and accomplishments before I can expect someone to mentor me
Let's get this one out the way quickly. You don't need to have a lot of experience or have accomplished great things before someone will be willing to mentor you. In fact, it's the process of building strong mentoring relationships that will help you along the journey of developing your experience and accomplishing great things.
You can be mentored at any stage of your career (and even before you start your career) - you don't have to have a wealth of experience. What you do have to have a wealth of, is:
a willingness to learn,
a desire to reciprocate your mentor's energy,
a clear view on what you want to be mentored on,
a willingness to be challenged,
an openness to feedback,
the courage to get out of your comfort zone and apply what you discuss with your mentor, and
a commitment to making your mentor proud.
The pleasure a mentor will derive from being part of your journey of achievement will be far greater than only mentoring you once you have achieved great things already.
Myth No 2: I have to be mentored by someone that has reached the pinnacle of (or at least great heights in) their career
If you only try to be mentored by people who have achieved great heights or appear to be an overnight success, you are going to miss out on an enormous amount of potentially mentoring opportunities. There are mentors all around you - many of them who will be able to guide you and transfer their experience to you, are those who are relatively close to you in age and experience. They are people who are perhaps one or two levels more experienced than you and still remember how they navigated the transition that you are about to embark on.
If you are a graduate student looking to enter the world of work, you don't need to be mentored by the company CEO - you need to be mentored by someone a few years ahead of you who can help you navigate the transition from being a university student to being a valuable first-time employee.
If you are moving into your first management position, seek out someone who has navigated the transition from managing themselves to managing others - not someone who is now managing an entire organization.
If you are looking to position yourself to join a board, move into a CEO position, or transition into an entirely new career - find a mentor who has done those things in the last few years.
Set your sights on what you need to learn and the transitions in your career that you need to navigate over the next 3 - 5 years and identify someone who has recently navigated that journey. I can almost guarantee they will relate to you better than someone who made those transitions 10+ years ago because they will still have a clear memory of the challenges they faced, how they overcame them and what they wished they had known to ask at the time.
Your mentors' experience needs to be relevant to the journey you are wanting to go on and they need to still have a conscious memory of how they made that transition so they can break it down into clear steps for you.
Myth No 3: I have to find the perfect mentor who can mentor me in everything
There is no such thing as a unicorn mentor! No one person will have all the experience and wisdom that you are seeking so drop that expectation right now. Rather look for multiple mentors and types of mentors who can mentor you in different areas of development and at different stages in your career.
There are a number of different types of mentors that you will need in your life - these are just some of them:
These are the people who can guide you in developing your technical expertise. They work in your industry, they mastered their craft, and can show you step by step how to do the job better, more efficiently, with greater expertise.
These are people who are close to you in their years of experience but perhaps have slightly different experience to you based on their exposure to working with other people, on different projects, how they react to situations based on their self-awareness, their confidence, or a different world view. These are peers that give you a different perspective, who broaden the way you experience a situation, who are there to vent with, laugh with, they are your proverbial wingman.
These are the people that inspire you to say "when I grow up I aspire to be like xxxx". These might be people that you will never meet in your life, but you feel you know them through the movies they star in, the books they have written, the articles that are written about them, the careers they have led, the achievements they have made. My aspirational mentors are people like Brene Brown (for the work she has done on making shame, vulnerability, and brave leadership topics a part of everyday conversation), Jordan B Peterson (for his articulation of the 12 Rules for Life), and Jessica Rabbit (yes a cartoon character - for her dangerously feminine confidence).
And then there are the people that you never want to be like at all. They are the antithesis of who you want to be. You observe their behaviors and they make you uncomfortable - perhaps because the way they show up in the world is a little too close to how you show up when you are not being your best self. They display characteristics that show you a mirror of yourself and give you the opportunity to observe your future self if you don't consciously address some of your shortcomings now.
Myth No 4: My mentor will know what to mentor me on
Nope. Your mentor hasn't a clue what to mentor you on - or rather they probably have an idea based on their experience, but it's not necessarily based on what's relevant to you at the time. I can think of a number of failed mentoring relationships where my mentees pitched up for a mentoring session and when I asked what they would like to discuss in our session, they said they didn't know and hadn't taken the time to think about it.
As a mentor, there is nothing more frustrating than working with a mentee who has no idea why she is there. If you want me to mentor you, at least take the time to think about what you are hoping to achieve through the relationship and what topics you want to discuss - that way I am able to meet your expectations, or at the very least clarify which of your expectations I can meet.
If you are going to look for a mentor, you need to know what you want to get out of the relationship, why you are wanting to be mentored by that specific person, what they are doing in their careers that you want to learn to do. You need to have spent some time getting to understand who your mentor is and how you believe they can help you in your career.
Myth No 5: Mentors are hard to find
Mentors are not hard to find. Mentors are everywhere! I think however sometimes we tend to approach them in the wrong way and they back off because too much is being asked of them too soon.
Very few people want to be asked to be your mentor in the first conversation you ever have with them - I know this because I have been through this experience numerous times.
Being a mentor to someone is a big ask. Take the time to get to know the person before you ask them to be your mentor, and make it less about you and more about them. If there is someone you find interesting and want to learn from, follow them on LinkedIn for a while, read their posts, get to know what they talk about, comment on their posts, add some value to the conversation.
I've recently taken on an intern (which is a bit like a mentoring relationship) and the reason I took her on was that for the past year she has taken the time to get to know me through my engagement on LinkedIn. She started out by following me. Then she asked to connect with me and said how much she appreciated my blogs. At some point, we connected for a quick telephone call and every now and again I saw her comment on some of my posts. She added value or asked a question. By the time she asked me if she could intern with me, she knew enough about me to be able to tell me exactly why she wants to intern with me and what she hopes to get from the relationship. She has made it easy for me to take her on as an intern.
Myths busted! Now find a mentor
Ok so now that we have got some myths out of the way, here are my suggested steps to follow that will help you find a mentor.
Know what you want
Get clear on what you need to be mentored on - develop a clear goal and timeframe over which you want to develop this aspect of yourself.
Look around you to see who has the experience that you want to learn from.
Cast your net wide and give yourself options. Analyse your professional network - everyone you have met in your studies, people who have guest lectured, people that you follow on LinkedIn, people who are a few years ahead of you at work, people that you know through your network.
Start studying the people that you want to learn from
Read their posts/blogs, watch their webinars, visit their websites. Once you know a bit about them and the topics they talk about, reach out and engage with them on one of these topics.
Spend some time getting to know them and making yourself known.
Add value to their conversations on LinkedIn, share your thoughts on the topics that they engage on, send them an article that relates to the topics they talk about, stay in contact.
Ask for an initial conversation.
Perhaps a quick Zoom chat or a telephone call or a coffee meet-up. This is not the time to be asking the person to be your mentor - this is a get-to-know-you chat. Say what interests you about the person and perhaps ask a few questions about how they got to where they are in their career.
After the first engagement if you feel that this is a potential mentor for you follow up with an email or text message to thank them for their time and indicate what value you got from the interaction and that you would like to meet up again. If she is receptive to this then set a date for the next meeting.
Let it evolve
Let the relationship evolve - perhaps it becomes a formal mentoring relationship or perhaps it stays organic and informal. It doesn't actually matter. What matters is that it is natural and uncontrived, that both parties get value from the relationship, and that it remains reciprocal.
Make it easy
Make it easy for your mentor - take the initiative in the relationship, plan the topics that you want to discuss, organise the venue (even if it's an online venue), send the calendar invite.
Ask for feedback and be courageous in hearing it
Ask for feedback and be courageous in hearing the feedback even when it is difficult to hear. A mentoring relationship is about your growth and development - if you are going to get honest feedback from your mentor, you need to be ready to take the good with the not-so-good. It's really hard to give critical feedback so your mentor needs to know that it's not going to backfire when she gives you honest feedback. If she is a good mentor she will give the feedback with great care and empathy.
Commit to the process
Mentoring isn't a one-month or one-season event. It's a relationship that takes time and commitment to develop. If it's going to be worthwhile for both parties, it needs some clear goals, a period of time to work towards those goals, and the commitment to put in the effort so that you grow as a mentee.
And know when to move on
It's ok to outgrow your mentor. Remember your mentor is not going to be able to mentor you on everything forever. At some point, you may outgrow your mentor because the original objective of the mentoring relationship has been met. Congratulations! That will be a wonderful achievement. Never force a relationship to stay mentoring focussed if there is nothing more to be mentored on by that person. It doesn't mean you have to stop contact. It just means the nature of your relationship may have changed.
Have you got any ideas to add based on your mentoring experiences?
I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.
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