How do you start the relationship, and how do you get the most out of it once it’s started?
First, you may have more than one mentor in your career and that’s OK. As you progress through your career, or as your career evolves, your needs, expectations, and goals will evolve too.
There are several different ways to find a mentor outside a formal, large company program. Your professional association might have a mentor-ship program. CEOs and entrepreneurs have self-organized into peer mentor-ship groups such as TEC, EO, and others. If your company doesn’t have a formal program you may still be able to find somebody within the company or your own network.
Once you have somebody or several somebodies in mind, it’s time to start the mentor relationship. Ideally your chosen mentor is somebody that you already have a relationship with. Then this will be more of a transition or gear shift than a cold start. You will need to decide the level of detail and formality you’re comfortable with, but to get the most of our the relationship consider the following:
- Be very clear about what you’re expecting out of the relationship. What are your goals, dreams, and aspirations? How do you expect your mentor to help you? Do you want advice, introductions, help making decisions, coaching to improve skills, a sounding board, education, inspiration, somebody to hold you accountable for your goals? Or are your expectations more concrete such as getting that promotion, learn how to run a meeting effectively, or land that big contract.
- Be able to communicate your intentions clearly, and get agreement from your mentor that they can and want to help.
- Be clear on what the time commitment will be. How often, for how long, and where will you meet. Will this be face-to-face, e-mail, or virtual (teleconference or video-conference) meeting? Will you be meeting in an office, a restaurant, or somewhere else? Will you be taking notes, using a tape recorder?
- Regardless of where you meet, make sure there will be no interruptions. Close your laptop, put your electronics on stun, close the door, and draw the blinds. Spend the time in focused attentiveness. Asking somebody for a favour and then not paying attention to them is not very respectful.
- Be clear on how long you expect this relationship to last. Will you be meeting once a week for six months, or once a month for six years?
- Be respectful but forthright. Be open and committed. Be prepared. You’re asking a (usually) more senior person, who’s most valuable commodity is time, to spend that time with you for your (mostly) benefit. You can’t get the best advice if you’re not willing to share all the relevant details. Asking somebody for advice and not taking it, or at least trying it, is a waste of both your and their time. Do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it.
- Say thank-you. If it’s appropriate in your situation a bottle of wine or other similar gift, accompanied by a hand-written note, is a nice token to express your gratitude.