Around the time I started getting the word senior tacked onto my title and would say things like, “I’ve been doing that for twelve years,” or “Oh, I worked with them eight years ago,” or even worse, “Back in the ‘90s, we …,” I also started getting asked fairly regularly for professional advice from my younger colleagues and peers. And it usually wasn’t just, “What should I do now?” They often asked me a version of, “What is the one piece of advice you would give?” And my answer was always the same.
Find a career mentor.
There are lots of business mentorship programs out there. Companies, professional associations and alumni groups facilitate mentor matchups for a variety of reasons. And that’s totally cool. I’m not dismissing those programs, but that’s not what this post is about. I’m recommending you find a mentor organically.
Start by asking yourself, if you had to find someone to look out for you at work, who would it be? Who gives you support when you need it and tough talk when you don’t think you need it? Who do you learn the most from? Look around you. Take stock of your colleagues and the leaders at your job.
If there’s no one you feel is worthy of mentoring you at your current place of employment, then I’d venture to say you’re not working at the right place.
Webster defines a mentor as “an experienced and trusted adviser.” And, while mentors come in lots of different styles and varieties, I consider myself lucky enough to have had three mentors in my professional career to date. One who gave me a chance and believed in me at the right time. One who taught me more about creative direction in two years than I ever knew I had the capacity to learn. And one who helped me set the course of my career by giving me a steady stream of valuable advice and support along the way.
The Three Types of Mentors
She’s that one person at your office you go to for advice, and you know she really believes in you. You can pull her into a room anytime and hit her with anything. She gives great advice (a lot of which you’ve taken), she’s very present, actively listens and asks a lot of great questions. She does a great job of sizing you up as well. She knows your strengths and can remind you anytime of why you are valuable to the organization. She’s no softy though. She is a tough manager and expects the very best, so you want to please her. With her around, you’ve stretched more and learned more because you know she believes in you. You somehow are less afraid to make a mistake with her around.
Wow, this person is smart. You’ve never met anyone like him. You learn something with every engagement, and you are amplified and energized when you’re in a meeting with him, because you’re watching great thinking in action. You want to bottle up what he teaches you because you value the opportunity to work alongside someone this sharp. And the coolest part is that he seems to think you’re pretty smart too. He gives you opportunities to actively learn from him and pulls you into situations, even before you’re ready, so you can watch him in action. You model his thinking and behavior to a degree, because you admire him.
THE FIELD GUIDE
You feel genuinely lucky to have this person in your life, because you are genuinely lucky to have this person in your life. Although you no longer work together or even live in the same town, she has been literally one phone call away for years. When there’s a fork in the road, she helps you weigh the pros and cons of each potential direction. You are uncensored with her, and you have a deep rapport and a shared mutual respect for each other. You can map choices in your life back to the advice she gave you. She always takes your call, and is always there for you. You wish there was a way to make it up to her, but you know that she is gratified and fulfilled to be such a force in your life.
Make an Organic Connection
So you’ve found your guy. You picked your ideal mentor from the possibilities before you. Now what? Here’s the thing. You cannot ask someone to mentor you. You just can’t. To work, it will happen organically. Here is my recommended recipe for how to find and grow a business mentor organically:
- Start with circumstance. You and he are in the right place, at the right time.
- Add a dash of chemistry. You and your mentor are genuinely fond of each other.
- Stir in a healthy dose of reciprocity. You’ve both got to want to put work into this relationship.
- Blend in clear communication. Don’t be shy. Express your appreciation and talk with your mentor actively about what you’ve learned from him, or what she’s done for you.
With intention, and thoughtfulness, it’s likely that inside one of those gratitude conversations you’re having with your mentor-to-be, the notion of mentorship will come up—organically—in some form or fashion. You may even realize a little after the fact that you were being mentored. There’s a special energy around the mentor relationship that tends to fuel both the mentor and the mentee. If and when you find it, consider yourself lucky.
Don’t forget to mentor others when the time is right. Pay it forward! I appreciate those who mentored me, but I’m honest when I say mentoring others is far more rewarding. It’s a deeply fulfilling part of my day to spend time and offer whatever help I can to a special few with whom I have a sort of mentor-style relationship. I am energized, humbled, fed and inspired by these individuals, and I have a strong belief in every one of them.