Mentors make all the difference in your career. From the outset of post-grad to especially when you are pursuing leadership and advancement roles, mentors are essential components to success. Everyone agrees they are important and everyone tells you that you need to find one now. And yet, most likely everything you have ever been told or taught about finding and securing a mentor is wrong. Dead wrong, counterproductive, and a waste of your time and energy.
Some fundamental truths about mentors
Before we get into the how of finding and securing mentors we need to understand and manage our expectations of what exactly a mentor’s role is in our professional journeys and be realistic. Mentors are not your parents nor are they your best friends. They are not responsible for the entire trajectory of your career nor are they in control of your well-being and state of mind. Only you can control that. Some other fundamentals that we need to keep in mind:
- Mentors find you, not the other way around. Mentors come into your life when they are least expected but often most needed. They gravitate to you for any number of reasons but primarily this occurs when there is a connection to what you and they are passionate about.
- Mentors are not life coaches. Mentors have careers and lives of their own, respect their time and energy. They can steer you in new directions and/or provide key insights and support for one or two aspects of your professional development and growth, at most, not a map for your entire professional life.
- Forced Mentorship doesn’t work. Most organizational mentorship programs often fail because they are forced, don’t consider the natural behavioral patterns that occur between people and typically have limited impact long-term. Avoid these programs like the plague, they are ineffective suck the life out of you and don’t work.
1st rule: Stop doing this
Don’t ever go up to someone you’ve recently met and ask them to be your mentor. In fact, don’t ask anyone on the spot to be your mentor. It is awkward and won’t serve the ultimate purpose of engaging someone in your professional life. You would think this would go without saying but I have witnessed this countless times at various professional events as well as been approached myself and it is just bad form when it comes to building a relationship with someone.
Instead, if there is someone you admire and want to engage for advice reach out in a non-threatening way via email and ask if you can take them to coffee (30 minutes of their time) to learn more about their perspective on a particular issue that you know they are passionate about and that you also have interest in. From there you can organically share your story and solicit advice but here again, this is just an invitation for them to offer advice and counsel, not a forced relationship whereby they feel obligated for the whole of your professional life.
Three essential steps to securing your mentor:
STEP I – Look Inward, Assess Your Strengths, Find & Define Your Calling
To find a great mentor you need to look inward first and foremost. This may sound counterintuitive but it is essential to securing mentors throughout your career. You need to also have a good sense of your strengths and I highly recommend taking the Strengths test 2.0. It will give you your top 5 strengths (there is also a version for entrepreneurs) as well as verbiage to help you describe those strengths when you are promoting yourself. It is also vital that you find and define your calling. If you don’t have a clear idea of what your professional calling is or at a minimum a solid understanding of your strengths combined with what you are most passionate about you won’t be able to attract mentors that will serve your long-term career goals.
Step II — Develop a powerful POV, then share it
People aren’t inspired or drawn to someone who is just on the hunt for their next job opportunity. People are moved and motivated by ideas, stories, purpose and powerful points of view (POV). By people who think differently and want to make a difference. A point of view is something that you have spent time thinking deeply about and have done your homework on if someone challenges you. Most importantly, a distinct point of view is something that others can argue with you about. Strong POVs are memorable, attract others to you and are the cornerstone of any enduring, successful professional brand. Once you have developed a strong point of view share it by publishing it as a post online, debating with close friends/colleagues and/or as part of a speaking engagement. The more you put your ideas out into the professional universe the more likely you are to connect with and have mentors gravitate towards you to support your efforts.
Step III — Be a mentor to others & cultivate a growth mindset
Regardless of where you are in your career, the best way to naturally attract mentors to your efforts is to find ways of mentoring yourself. Find ways of being a mentor and being of service in the areas you are most passionate about professionally. When I look back at the mentors who have come into my life it has been because they observed that I was mentoring others who were junior to me or struggling with a project. It was also because they saw in me a growth mindset where it wasn’t just about me and the advancement of my career but about service to a greater cause, a higher purpose. There were also numerous occasions where I was introduced to incredible mentors because I volunteered without an expectation of pay or promotion for a project or effort so I could learn and be challenged. I have continually demonstrated this growth mindset throughout my career and have been rewarded with countless mentors that I could have never anticipated coming into my professional journey.
People like being around others who are constantly learning, growing and serving others. People also like helping others who know who they are, have an idea of where they want to go, and are relentless in their pursuit of that goal. Start with these fundamentals and the mentors will come.
Written by Cari E. Guittard, Professor of Women’s Leadership, Corporate Diplomacy, and International Negotiations. Awarded the 2013 Women’s Leadership Hall of Heroes Award from MBA International, and regular contributor to the Huffington Post