When we think of career advancement and leadership development, a good option is the use of a mentor. Whether you are a senior executive or an emerging leader, there is never a bad time to ask for the assistance of a mentor. Just as Plato had Socrates and Bill Gates has Warren Buffett, mentoring is an excellent opportunity for learning from a role model.
By definition, a mentor is someone with knowledge and experience that you can benefit from and is willing to share his or her acquired wisdom. The underlying idea is to improve yourself by connecting with their experience and insight. To get the most out of the relationship, here is a short list of things to keep in mind:
1. Define your need. Take the time to define your mentoring needs. Are you a technically-minded person who could polish your relationship-building skills? Are you a junior executive who could benefit from the experience of someone more seasoned? Once you have a solid understanding of your mentoring needs, make a list of those who can potentially fill the role.
2. Build the relationship. Learn as much as you can about the people on your list. Which ones have values that closely align with yours? Get to know them in a casual setting over coffee or lunch to see if you have a natural rapport. Don’t lead with “Will you be my mentor?” (That’s like asking someone to marry you on the first date.) Instead, get to know them. Start small and see where it goes.
3. Set expectations. Once you’ve found a good match, take the time to set expectations for the relationship. Will you meet informally to chat over business challenges? Should you set up a weekly call to discuss an initiative? Maybe you’d prefer an interview style where you go over a set of questions. Choose the style that best meets your mentorship goal.
4. Be prepared. If you’ve chosen wisely, there is a good chance that your mentor has just added you to an already busy schedule. Be respectful by showing up to your mentoring sessions on time and being prepared. If you agreed to do some homework, make sure you honor that commitment. If you chose an interview format, bring a list of carefully prepared questions.
5. Move on. The ultimate goal is to arrive at a stage where you will no longer require the services of your mentor. Just as you set expectations going into the relationship, be clear when you feel it’s time to move on. Don’t allow the relationship to end in an awkward fizzle, but bring it to an honorable close. Thank your mentor for taking the time and caring enough to invest in your growth. Chances are, your relationship will evolve into a long-term trusted friendship.
If you are the type of person who takes on challenges, you’ll likely have a series of formal and informal mentors along your career path. If you make the effort to manage these relationships well, they can be some of the most important connections of your lifetime. And when you get an invitation for coffee from a junior colleague, be prepared to use your positive experiences to pass it on.