A reader of this blog wrote in and asked: " ". Thank you for these 2 great questions!
I've been very lucky in my professional life to have had several mentors throughout my career. 5 in total to be exact - 3 formal ones and 2 informal ones. As I've written previously my first mentor was not sought out by me but after gaining so much benefit, both professional and personal, from that relationship I reached out for mentors since then.
The first part to getting a mentor is identifying possible candidates. Much like dating there has to be a certain "match" and an interest on both sides. If there are people around you that you admire or wish you could emulate that puts them on the list of your candidate mentors! If not then ask for recommendations. At one company I found my mentor by asking my boss. Asking your manager is recommended anyway as it accomplishes two things: 1. it lets your manager know your desire to grow through mentoring and that you're taking strong interest in your career by making this type of commitment; 2. it also lets your manager know that you'll be meeting someone outside of our immediate organization to talk about topics usually reserved for 'the boss' such as your career. A good boss will be very encouraging of your mentoring desires and may know folks at their level (or higher) that would be a good match for you! Or they may know great Business or Life Coaches who specialize in career and life coaching for hire.
Once you've identified your list of candidates set up a short meeting, perhaps coffee, with the individual at the top of your list. Typically these folks are very busy so be respectful of their calendar and be patient to get that initial meeting. If this person's name came from a recommendation perhaps the person that gave you the recommendation can set up an introduction. And please do keep that initial meeting short to demonstrate that you keep your commitments when it comes to people's time.
If you are going the paid Business Coach route you still need to set up an initial conversation because you still need to ensure a great "match". Especially if you are paying for them! Many Business Coaches will set up initial consultations for free.
When meeting time arrives start off by explaining the purpose of the meeting (i.e. to see if there is a mutual interest in starting a mentoring relationship). Explain why you think this would be a good match. If possible enumerate the qualities you've seen or heard about the candidate mentor/coach that you admire. It's important to establish rapport early in the conversation or quickly recognize that it's difficult to do so and may not make a great fit. Don't be shy! Be eager! Most everyone would be flat out flattered that they are being approached with this kind of request even if in the end there isn't a fit. Talk a little bit about yourself - what you do, where you see yourself going. Also talk about what you expect to get out of a mentor and what kind of time commitment you expect. Do be sure to be flexible as you are the one essentially asking a favor even if in the end the relationship ends up being very beneficial to both of you. Both of you should have enough of a conversation to decide if you'd like to proceed.
Hopefully the answer is "yes" to proceeding from both of you but be very prepared to hear "No" from the candidate mentor. Don't take it personally! I've had some candidate mentors say no to me because they were already mentoring 3 other people and simply could not take on an additional person. You may hear "no" because the person honestly feels that they can't offer you much help or time. Not everyone is prepared to be a mentor and that doesn't make them a bad person of course. You may decide "no" on your part because the qualities you thought the candidate mentor possessed were not quite there. If this isn't your mentor that's fine just move to the next person on the list or grow your list through conversations with peers and friends.
Regarding the 2nd question about qualities to look for in a mentor success really depends on the chemistry between the two individuals. Will you feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics with each other? Is this someone you can trust? Did you feel you established a good rapport with the person after that initial meeting? Below is a good list taken from the article: "6 Qualities of a Good Mentor":
- Authentic – the mentor “practices” what he/she “preaches.” A good mentor will not only tell you what the best approach is, but is utilizing the approach him/herself. The mentor doesn’t send you in one direction while he/she goes another saying, “you have to learn the hard way.” The purpose of working with a mentor is to learn from the mentor's mistakes.
- Personally Involved – the mentor should take a personal interest in the mentoring relationship. The mentor should get to know you, how you work, what your goals are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and any other pertinent information that you (the mentee) believe to be relevant.
- Listens – a good mentor will genuinely listen to your concerns and not be eager to get the conversation over. You shouldn’t be a list item on your mentor’s day sheet. He should know your current projects by name and be able to ask you, first hand, how things are going.
- Continues to Learn and Grow – a good mentor knows that he couldn’t possibly know everything there is to know in any given field today – the world has become much too complex. Things change, people change, circumstances change – and it’s all great. A good mentor will remain open to new ideas and even try them.
- Assumes You’re Great – a good mentor doesn’t assume that you’re a loser just because you are coming to him for advice. He recognizes that you have talent and are successful already, (otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to afford his fee! [Editor's addition: or that you wouldn't necessarily recognize the benefits of mentoring even without a fee!]). At the very least, he should see your potential or otherwise not take you on as a mentee.
- Builds You Up – A good mentor is tuned in, tapped in, turned on, and in their wholeness, they will uplift you. When someone fosters insecurity in you, they are not tuned in, tapped in, turned on, and they’re not a good mentor for you in that moment.
I agree with all these qualities and would explicitly add one more: trustworthiness - can this person keep things confidential? You need to have an open and safe place to discuss anything and that space isn't created if there is fear of information getting out. Establish the "all our conversations stay in the room" rule at your first session.
I hope this helps give some tips on finding a great mentor! Keep the questions coming and thanks again!