A Twitter follower recently asked, “Isn’t the point of mentorship personal interaction?”
I’m glad she asked the question because she does have part of it right; having a mentor who interacts with you regularly through one-on-one meetings — where she or he listens and advises and where she or he offers to make introductions and serves as a champion for you — can be one of the most beneficial relationships in achieving the career and life that you imagine.
Mentors that have personally invested their time in your development are not easy to come by. There’s a real supply and demand problem and many organizations are seeking to solve this. However, many people don’t fully appreciate that there are a variety of ways to be mentored.
If you aren’t taking advantage of these opportunities, you probably won’t attract the type of mutually beneficial outcomes from a mentor with whom you have a personal interaction and a relationship.
There is an art and science on how to find a mentor that truly benefits you – and while it can take time, there are actions you can take now that will accelerate your success and increase the odds of finding the right personal mentor for you and making the experience a win/win for both parties.
Take these actions and you will see immediate and incremental progress:
1. Commit to your own personal development
Committing to your personal development should be an ongoing habit in your life. The first step is to understand your strengths and purpose. In any type of mentoring, you do 99% of the work to grow and achieve results and transformation. A good mentor often helps you discover an intuition you have, or bring clarity to a situation. Many times as I’ve been mentored over the years, a mentor will validate a hunch I’ve had, and then I had to act on it and follow through.
2. Block out time in your calendar to invest in yourself and your career
There are a variety of ways to gain excellent mentoring advice available from wise counselors at conferences, workshops, through reading articles (especially in Inc, Forbes, Entrepreneur), online courses, podcasts (One of my favorites is Mixergy), and apps – like the Pocket Mentor mobile app!
3. Join a professional group
Professional groups can be a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration where you forge relationships with others who have been there and done that. You may need to try several before finding one that suits you; I’ve been a member of Women in Technology, the Northern Virginia Technology Council, National Association of Corporate Directors, Women Corporate Directors, and International Women’s Forum.
Some groups have been more valuable than others – and after awhile, I pared the list down and have committed to only a few. While I haven’t developed a mentoring relationship in these groups yet, I’ve given and received counsel that has been just as good as that of a mentor.
Speaking of giving and receiving…
4. Think about what you will add to a mentoring relationship
That’s right; you have much to offer to your more senior and accomplished mentor. At a minimum, you have ideas and a network of relationships. Look for ways you can use that.
A few years ago, I began a new mentoring relationship with the former president of a $1B recruitment company – and she also serves on numerous public company boards (where only 17 – 18% are women). She has become a friend and continues to encourage me to think bigger, say no to some opportunities, and challenge my self-limiting beliefs (which strike all of us, regardless of how many goals and successes we have achieved).
I have been delighted to help her, too. For example, when I learned that a company was looking for a board member, I suggested her, and introduced her to a few women in my network that I thought would be beneficial for her to connect with.
5. Do your homework on yourself
Whether you have a mentor now or are seeking one, the real work and progress is up to you. If your mentor gives you advice, follow it! Report back to your mentor on what you learned and achieved. Take a lot of initiative; good mentors by definition are successful and have a lot of responsibilities – honor their time and talent. Prepare for every meeting and be focused. You want them to be confident in your initiative – that is when they will be confident enough to make introductions for you.
When you take these five steps, you are more likely to enjoy a mentoring relationship where your mentor wants to see you succeed and is willing to invest time and make introductions for you. Reward them by making them look good!
One more thing – don’t ask someone you don’t know very well to be your mentor. Sheryl Sandberg writes about this in her bestselling book, Lean In. It has happened to me too – and it feels awkward (it’s like someone asking to marry you on the first date)!
Mentoring relationships are developed over time – and only when you have already proven that you are investing in your own personal development, that you are willing to do your homework, and that you are prepared to add your own unique value to the mentor and relationship.
Good leaders know they must continually grow; and they need the advice of a variety of mentors. Are you ready?