Special Guest Blogger: Alicia Clancy, Director of Communications – West Central Cooperative
While seemingly contradictory, these facts about me are true.
• My mentors have been a major, positive influence on my career.
• I have never asked anyone to be my mentor.
In my experience, there are a few functional basics to consider when “looking for a mentor.”
Build a Relationship That Can Sustain Mentorship
You will not find a formal mentorship agreement in my personnel file. As I mentioned, I’ve never even asked anyone their permission to be my mentor. It just happened.
As Sheryl Sandberg stated in Lean In, “the strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides.” When you’re ready to find a mentor, be cognizant of your existing relationships at work, school or in your community groups.
For me, it was an internship supervisor who was willing to teach me something and share anecdotes to help me better understand a situation; a colleague with an open door policy who had a completely different background and was willing to share his perspective; and an executive who I not only admired but who provided me with real-time feedback.
Ask And You Shall Receive…So, Be Ready
The advice I have for those who have identified someone with mentor-like qualities is to ask specific, emotionally-intelligent questions. I always learn more by biting off small chunks in conversations than by trying to understand, for example, the meaning of life.
I liked to get specific…
- “Here’s how my meeting went today. What would you have done in this situation if you were me?”
- “I have a couple of ways I can approach this problem, do you mind if I ask you which way you might do it?”
- “What else could I try as I face this challenge?”
I advise you, be ready for the answer. More than once I have walked into a mentor’s office, shut the door and asked “how would you deal with this situation?” to be told to quit whining. I had gotten caught up in the drama and not the facts. My mentor reminded me of the objective and helped me re-focus.
What Candid Feedback Can Do For You
A strong mentor helps you be resilient, take ownership and continually get better at your job. One of my mentors once reminded me that my comfort level with giving project updates at a moment’s notice is not shared by everyone in my meetings. She advised giving attendees a heads up that I was looking for them to say a few things about their project, so they could prepare in advance. Ever since my mentor helped me recognize differences in style and personality type, my meetings have gone more smoothly.
Return the Favor
As you cultivate your relationship with your mentor, be prepared to pay it back…or forward. I once had coffee with a mentor whose encouragement and support were helping me with a challenge. In the course of asking her questions to help myself, I learned she had a project she needed help making connections for. I was eager to help her out, repay her support, and showcase what she had taught me. Look for ways to make your mentorship situation mutually beneficial.
Not sure where to start looking for a mentor? Join a professional organization listed in our Career Profiles that fits your career and seek out what could be the start of a valuable mentorship.