Finding a Formal Mentor- Part I

In a previous post, I talked on the importance of getting your priorities in order (here) to advance in life. One way was to find a mentor. Mentors are important b/c they not only help you advance in your career, they can help enhance the skill of building relationships.

I Have a Leader, Why Do I Need a Mentor?

My first 3 years working in corporate, I depended on my leader to teach me the skills needed to move along in my career.  I learned a good bit under my leader but b/c she had other direct reports, her focus couldn’t just be on me.  NOTE: Speaking as a leader now, you can’t put a lot of your focus on one of your direct reports b/c it can be perceived as favoritism.

Fast forward

I’ve now been promoted to a manager and I still don’t have a mentor.  I still have the mentality… I don’t need a mentor!  Honestly, at this point… I had my own opinions about having one.  At the time, I thought they were nosey people who really couldn’t help you.  In my mind, they acted more like counselors than mentors.  Obviously, I still didn’t have the right perception about mentors but it was out of ignorance, not facts.

Credit: businessnewsdaily.com

Fast forward

I’ve been a leader now for about 8 years and still NO mentor.  Yes, it wasn’t until 8.5 years later that I finally opened my mind to obtaining one.  I know you are thinking… why now? Well read on to find out…

Me: I’m so frustrated.  I’ve been in the same position for years and I feel under-valued and stuck.

Peer: Why?  You get so much KUDOS on your work ethic, your performance… your direct reports love you… why do you feel frustrated?

Me: Because, the work is becoming redundant and I’ve been ready to grow.

Peer: Do you have a mentor?

Me: No.  Really, not you too?!  They just want to talk about themselves and I don’t feel anyone around here has enough experience to help me.  I’ve been in management for almost 6 years now.  I probably can teach them a thing or two!  And don’t get me started on the hard work I’ve done around here!  In addition, it’s hard to trust people in the corporate world.  I feel if I open up, they will use it against me some how.

Peer: I feel ya, but if you find one you can trust… they can really help you b/c you are building a relationship.  Hey… they can possibly look out for you if a position becomes available but more importantly, they can help evolve your skills even more.  I’ve had a mentor for about 2 years now and he has really helped improve my opportunities.

Me: Oh well I guess I didn’t think of it that way.  I still want to know a little bit more but for now, how do I find one?

Pick Someone w/ the Opposite Personality

Do you know anyone that has years of working experience and is well respected? I would think of 3 people and then narrow it down to whom may fit best.  However, I would NOT go with anyone that has a personality similar to yours. Pick someone that has the opposite personality b/c that will complement your skills. They may it easier for you to notice opportunities that you didn’t know you possessed.

  • Example: One of my opportunities (not anymore) was not appearing to be approachable. (It was far from the truth, but we all know… someone’s perception is reality, maybe?) In meetings, I would sit with my arms crossed and while walking hallways, people told me I didn’t smile much.  I used to defend myself by saying… “maybe I’m cold and maybe I’m focused.” People who knew me would say “I know you are approachable but to a person who doesn’t really know you, it may seem you don’t want to be bothered or that you are not engaged.”

Fast forward 

I wasn’t ready to take on a formal mentor just yet, but I began “unofficially” building a relationship with a respectable leader that everyone liked!  Every time I saw her she was always smiling and every time she spoke, you could tell people would listen b/c they were focused on what she had to say. I would go to her desk and start off with casual conversation and when I became comfortable with her, I began opening up and explaining my opportunity.  She gave me her perspective on the situation by giving me tips like:

  • Always bring a pen/paper to a meeting; if you feel like you need to cross your arms, take notes to get your blood moving again.
  • If you really are cold, keep a sweater at work so you can wear in the conference rooms.
  • You may not smiling b/c you are focused with your work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t smile if they walk up to you.  As soon as they say Hi, STOP what you are doing, stand up and genuinely smile to greet them.

To some of you, this may seem like common sense but I am an introverted person.  In order for me not to come off fake, I usually have to get used to you before I can genuinely give you a smile of interest.  However, interestingly enough once I began consistently practicing what she told me, it became natural and now I get people visiting me all the time- LOL- sometimes too much!

Credit: sustainablenonprofits.org

Get Your Leader’s Help

If you are really having trouble narrowing down a few people, then ask your manager to help you. Ask them to pick out 3 individuals whom they think would be a good fit to become your mentor.  Then you can do one of three things:

  • Let your leader choose the best fit based on your opportunity b/c they will know you the most.
  • You can do a “drive-by interview.”  Start a casual conversation with each one at 3 different times.  I would choose which one gave you the best vibe and engaged with you genuinely.
  • Tell a close peer your options; tell them what you are trying to achieve by taking on a formal mentor and ask them which one would be the best fit.

You Have Chosen a Potential Mentor, Now What?

How do you greet them?  Do you just walk up to them and say, “Hi my name is… do you want to be my mentor?” Actually yes… if you feel comfortable doing that then by all means.  However, most people are not that direct.  If you are one of those, I would start by sending a nice, brief email to introduce yourself and ask if they would be your mentor.

  • Example: Hello *** I’ve heard so many good things about you and I would love to learn more!  Would you be able to dedicate an hour of your time once a month for us to talk, get to know each other and in the process, could you help me with my career planning? Sincerely, ***

If you were to send a note like that, I guarantee you most people will NOT tell you no.  I’ve always told my direct reports, if anyone to be your mentor and they tell you NO, it’s probably b/c they don’t have the capacity [time].  I would rather someone tell me NO upfront then to get started on our mentor/mentee journey and then don’t make time for me.  Again, don’t take offense if they tell you no.

Credit: melbourne.tie.org

My First Meeting w/ My Mentor, What do I say?

Hmmm, this post is getting a little long so why don’t I save that advice for a future one 😉 However, I will leave you with this… your first meeting with your mentor should make a lasting impression.  You want to:

  1. Dress to Impress- Wear an outfit you wouldn’t normally wear every day.
  2. Come prepared with a notepad/pen- You will want to take notes and if anything, make it seem like you are. Mentors like to see you are paying attention and capturing notes to reflect on later.

Okay… okay… that’s enough for now- LOL!  You are about to make me give more advice!  I promise to write a part II soon!


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2 Comments

  1. I recently went through this. When I was going through a difficult time in my life, and needed a mentor to kind of be there to guide me, little did I know that person was already someone that I knew. We are total opposites in so many ways, but I know that I can trust her advice and guidance. As our friendship grew I in turn became a mentor to her.

    • That is wonderful to hear Deborah! Yes, sometimes it happens that way… someone you thought wouldn’t get close to winds up being closer than what you think in so many ways. That is a good way for someone to become your mentor b/c you know you can trust them. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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