Often in my career I’ve been approached by colleagues asking for help in finding a mentor. “Can you help me?” they ask. “I just need a mentor.”
If only I could jump onto Amazon and order you a mentor that ships overnight — a mentor who’s a perfect fit for you. If only finding a mentor was as easy as finding the perfect pair of black leather boots. (I’m still searching for those).
You don’t find mentors overnight. You collect mentors over the course of your life.
My mentors have seen me leading my business into double-digit growth. My mentors have watched me fumble when I took risks that didn’t pay off. My mentors are my parents, my brother, my husband — even my two children, who have taught me to be more patient, disciplined and forgiving of myself, even when I “skip” a few pages during our bedtime stories.
I confess: Early on in my career I was the one saying, “Help! I need a mentor!” The few times I was placed in “formal” mentoring programs it was reminiscent of being set up on blind dates. Anticipation would build, as I imagined that this mentor could solve any career issue I had!
Rely on yourself
Our first meeting became the awkward first date. We would do intros, then ask “where are you from? Where did you go to school? Do you know Brian what’s-his-name?” We quickly would run out of chit-chat and fall silent.
In retrospect, there wasn’t much thought put into the pairing. It was me as the Associate Brand Manager paired with a Marketing Director. Good intentions gone bad.
The chemistry wasn’t there. We said we would “do coffee again.” We never did. If I did reach out to set up a second touch base, I never heard back.
So stop asking for a mentor. Do the work yourself and keep it simple.
Why? Why do I need a mentor? Are you in the middle of a career transition? Are you having trouble providing feedback to a poor performer? Are you expecting a baby for the first time? Do you want to put your name in the hat for that new manager role?
Once you determine the why, it will help you narrow down the field for “the who.”
Who? Who could be my mentor? Think broad. Grab your IPhone, browse your LinkedIn Network — jog your memory of who you know. New bosses, old bosses. A vice president who once led your organization. A director in another group. Agency partners, clients. Current and past peers. Alumni. Siblings, family members. Friends of the family. And yes, even former direct reports, can be mentors.
If you want an introduction to someone, make the ask. Meet with the person, feel it out. Don’t ask in the first meeting, “Would you please be my mentor?” Check if the chemistry is there and if both of you will benefit from this relationship. Someone who is your mentor doesn’t need the official title, he or she just becomes your mentor over time.
How? How do you want to connect with you mentor?
I love grabbing tea with mentors if we work together. Sometimes once a quarter, sometimes less or more. Depends on how deep the relationship is. You can always do Skype, start conversations over email or go to where your mentor is. Go back to the why and ensure you help drive your touch bases. After we have built a great relationship, I keep in touch with mentors over text and emails and with holidays cards. Good mentors are in my life for the long haul.
Finding really good — no great mentors — takes time and doesn’t happen overnight. Like any important relationship in your life, you put into the relationship what you get out of it. Remember, mentors don’t have to be your company’s CFO; he can just as easily be your baby brother.