WHY WOULD SOMEONE GIVE UP THEIR TIME AND KNOWLEDGE TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE PROGRESS?
For those who have never experienced the benefits of a mentor in their career or their lives, the whole concept seems a little foreign. These mythical people seem to inhabit an entirely different world, far removed from the self-absorbed society that we live in. Why would someone give up their time and knowledge to help someone else progress? Surely this sort of saviour is few and far between.
Well, no, actually the benefits of mentoring both for mentor and mentee are well documented, and there are surprising amounts of people out there who would be more than happy to “give something back.”
WHERE CAN I FIND THE RIGHT ONE FOR ME?
The question that you should be asking yourself is not “Do they exist?” It is not even “Where are they?” The more precise question is: “ Where can I find the right one for me?”
In this article, I am assuming that you know what you want to get out of your mentor relationship. You understand what it entails, you have even had a think about what sort of person might be best suited to your situation. This is not the sort of relationship to manage with a “let’s see what happens” attitude. Compile a tick list of qualities and experience for your ideal mentor. This is all about opening yourself up to constructive feedback in pursuit of a certain objective, and letting yourself be moulded by an experienced hand.
SO, WHERE ARE ALL THESE MENTORS AND WHICH PLACES ARE MORE SUITED TO WHICH SITUATIONS?
Family and Friends Trust is an important consideration when working with a mentor, so sometimes looking closer to home can pay off. Make sure that they fulfil your requirements from a professional point of view – often just having a “cosy” relationship is not enough. Mentors with whom you share a personal bond are maybe best suited to relationship and self-development questions. Hard truth feedback is very important in a mentor relationship.
Company Schemes Many of the better companies have official mentoring schemes for employees who wish to develop within the company. This brings benefits for both parties and is often centrally organized as part of a development plan. The distinct advantage of being mentored by someone who knows the “territory” can sometimes be outweighed by the difficulty of being 100% honest. No matter how much you trust someone, if they spend any length of time with your immediate superiors, you may never know what may be disclosed. This is your judgement call of your company and potential mentor.
Your Network This is where networking really comes to the fore. The effectiveness of networking may be questionable for business development purposes, but for finding a potential mentor, it can be a source of gold dust. Attendees at these events are the right “kind” of people. They are open, giving, and many of them are industry stalwarts, as yet not totally comfortable with the social media variety of mentoring. They may not work directly in your industry but may be able to offer you equally insightful advice from a different perspective.
Industry Contacts Conferences and trade shows are not only a chance to collect business cards. If you take five minutes extra to really talk to someone rather than just exchanging pleasantries, you may discover that you have more in common. I would not advise working with a mentor from a direct competitor, as that could cause you issues at work, but suppliers to your industry are particularly fair game. They would benefit from your insight, and you would see your activity in a totally different light.
Complete Strangers What? That would be weird wouldn’t it? Approaching a complete stranger would be a daunting task for anyone, but if you research it properly, and if there is enough common interest, then this can often work well. Strangers have no pre-conceived ideas – they will have no qualms about being honest with you, and they have no relationship to spoil should things get heated. You should take this relationship slowly – ask them for advice to start with – don’t overly formalize things, and let the relationship develop of its own accord.
Social Media Well, last but definitely not least. The rules of engagement have not yet solidified on this one yet, but there is no doubt that being a “virtual” mentor can offer many of the benefits of the real thing without the time pressures (and costs) that a regular face-to-face meeting might entail. There are some amazing people sharing their thought leadership on social platforms. It is enough to read Richard Branson’s musings for many, but I am certain that there are huge amounts of people out there only too happy to give someone else a step-up along their career path. It is important to build up an online relationship first – asking out of the blue in this case probably won’t work very well.
So, in conclusion, if you haven't got a mentor, what is stopping you? They will add a rich new angle on your working life and could prove an invaluable ally when things get tough.
Things will get tough at some point. That’s life. Get someone on your side!