Simple Criteria for Choosing a Mentor

Anybody who wants a more successful career should find an experienced and trusted adviser or three. Personally I have my own little board of directors, whom I call my “Brain Trust.” And today I’m having lunch with a former boss who is now semi-retired but still a valuable network resource.

What should you be looking for in a mentor? How do you find an experienced and trusted advisor to help you have a more successful career?

First, be clear about your own intentions and expectations. What are you hoping to get out of the relationship? Are you working on a particular behaviour or skill? Are you wanting to improve your leadership skills, get promoted, or land that big contract?

A mentor is more experienced and knowledgeable than you. A mentor is a successful model of the career you’re envisioning, but distant enough from your own job, chain-of-command, or team / department / company that they can give you an objective perspective of your situation.

Their own self-interest does not play into any advice or feedback they give you. Nor will you hold back sharing important details with him or her for fear of it affecting your career, deal, or company.

A mentor is willing to spend time with you, coach you, and introduce you into his or her network. A mentor genuinely cares about you. They may even become a friend, but not necessarily.

You should respect your mentor, and work at establishing and maintaining the relationship. You’re getting more out of it than they are. You should be willing to invest the time and effort required. Treat it like the professional commitment that it is.

Your mentor will be honest (and kind) with you, push you out of your comfort zone, and ask you the questions that might make you squirm. A mentor will help you grow. If you’re not going to take their advice, then don’t waste their time.

In the end it’s your decisions about what actions to take or not. That never changes. Just consider that what got you to where you are might not get you to where you want to go next. Commit to making the changes needed to reach your goals.

Try This

If you don’t already have one, make a list of three potential mentors including what you would hope to learn from them. They don’t necessarily need to be in your network already. How will you approach them?

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Your Personal Board of Directors

There’s a current article that tells you to forget mentors, and instead employ a personal board of directors.

It’s good advice, but mentors still have their place.

What the HBR article describes is a high-octane version of networking. Which is great. Having a network of experienced and knowledgeable relationships invested in your success is a good thing, and something every successful project manager or executive will intentionally cultivate.

The reality is that mentors are hard to find. In this increasingly connected world, the time needed to develop and maintain personal relationships seems to slipping away from us. We’re so afraid of missing out something, somewhere, that we try to do everything. That just leaves us dazed and exhausted.

Yet the value of one-on-one mentor-ship is enormous. For both the mentor and the protégé. Try is some time and see what happens. If you’re the protégé it’s like having a career champion. If you’re the mentor you’ve established a valuable, life-long relationship. Talented people will be striving to work with you because you develop your people. It’s win/win.

So keep an eye out, either for that experienced, knowledgeable, and caring mentor to take you under her wing, or for that bright, energetic rising star that can really contribute to your success in the long run.

Mentoring is dead, long live mentoring!

Getting the Most Out of Your Mentor

You’re clear about what you want to get out of a mentor relationship, and you now have a couple of prospective mentors who fit your criteria.

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.

Simple Criteria for Choosing a Mentor

Anybody who wants a more successful career should find an experienced and trusted adviser or three. Personally I have my own little board of directors, whom I call my “Brain Trust.” And today I’m having lunch with a former boss who is now semi-retired but still a valuable network resource.

What should you be looking for in a mentor? How do you find an experienced and trusted advisor to help you have a more successful career?

First, be clear about your own intentions and expectations. What are you hoping to get out of the relationship? Are you working on a particular behaviour or skill? Are you wanting to improve your leadership skills, get promoted, or land that big contract?

A mentor is more experienced and knowledgeable than you. A mentor is a successful model of the career you’re envisioning, but distant enough from your own job, chain-of-command, or team / department / company that they can give you an objective perspective of your situation.

Their own self-interest does not play into any advice or feedback they give you. Nor will you hold back sharing important details with him or her for fear of it affecting your career, deal, or company.

A mentor is willing to spend time with you, coach you, and introduce you into his or her network. A mentor genuinely cares about you. They may even become a friend, but not necessarily.

You should respect your mentor, and work at establishing and maintaining the relationship. You’re getting more out of it than they are. You should be willing to invest the time and effort required. Treat it like the professional commitment that it is.

Your mentor will be honest (and kind) with you, push you out of your comfort zone, and ask you the questions that might make you squirm. A mentor will help you grow. If you’re not going to take their advice, then don’t waste their time.

In the end it’s your decisions about what actions to take or not. That never changes. Just consider that what got you to where you are might not get you to where you want to go next. Commit to making the changes needed to reach your goals.

Try This

If you don’t already have one, make a list of three potential mentors including what you would hope to learn from them. They don’t necessarily need to be in your network already. How will you approach them?

The Value of Mentors

Looking back on my corporate career, one thing that moved my career forward was having a mentor. Even if he didn’t know it!

The history of the mentor-protégé relationship goes back to Homer’s Iliad. The goddess Athena assumed the form of Odysseus’s friend Mentor, who was entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son.

Having a mentor is good way to learn from others’ experience, navigating corporate or market relationships, and developing your network. Being a mentor is a good way to pay back to the community, develop your team, develop your own leadership & coaching skills, and expand your own network. Being a mentor or being a protégé is win-win.

Mentors are invaluable.