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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(Re) Starting Your Career #1 – Keep Up Your Network

File:ParisCafeDiscussion.pngI had the privilege of taking a group of Mount Royal University students out for breakfast a couple of weeks ago. They had “won” me as part of the Clean Tech Challenge last semester. (I’m the judge at the front left). I really had no agenda when we scheduled the brunch. I was thinking about what these smart, hard-working students went through together in their intense 24 hours together, how they had bonded, and how they stood on the cusp of their careers. Most are now in their last semester and are making plans to move and get their first “grown up” job.

I was thinking about what unsolicited career advice I would want to share if asked. What might they want to hear and be able to use at what might well be their last breakfast together? The answer was sitting in front of me. It was them. They group and their connections were the answer.

Keep Up Your Network

When I say “network”, I don’t mean the used-car-salesman-exchanging-business-cards at some after work networking function, a staged networking post-conference pre-dinner event, or building a LinkedIn following. I mean maintaining friendships with professional people whom you know and like because you have an authentic, energizing relationship with them. People with a proven track record of contributing positively to your life, who you actually enjoy spending time with who also happen to be somehow connected to your career.

Your real network is that set of people who you feel comfortable asking questions and favours of, and whom you enthusiastically would answer questions and do favours for without expectation of return.

The friends you make in school, your volunteer work, your first jobs are the friends that are going to help you get that next job, promotion, or perfect recruit for that job you’re trying to fill or company you’re trying to start. You want them to think of you when they’re reaching out to people to solve a problem, so that they’ll think of you when they’re trying to do you a favour. Sometimes those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

So why ignore them until you need them? That’s just awkward. Yes, some of us believe we should be able to get things done, persuade others, or find work based on the merits of our work or the basis of facts. But it doesn’t always go that way.

People make decisions based on their gut and emotion, which means people they trust – right or wrong – have a greater influence than people they don’t trust. Trust built over time and with regular contact. Is it fair? Maybe not, but it’s reality. And I’d rather deal with reality than whatever ideal construct I have imagined in my head.

Start Now

Try this thought experiment: you’re suddenly looking for a job. Or maybe not so suddenly. Who are you going to call, write, have coffee with? Who are you going to send your resume to?

Now, do you feel comfortable dropping those people a line today and asking them for a favour? Have you kept in contact with them, asked them how they’re doing, taken even two minutes to write a note every once in a while? Do you have a real relationship with them?

If reaching out to your friends and co-workers feels awkward when you need them, then the time to reach out to them is now, and regularly from now on.

Bernie works with small, medium (and sometimes) large companies, start-ups, and volunteer organizations to help them set a vision that is executable, to be effective, and to surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I believe the workplace is a place to thrive, not just survive. Call me if you want help transforming your business. 

What Your Network Predicts About Your Performance

This article “Are You Working With Energizers or Rotten Apples?” is interesting. By measuring somebody’s effect on the relationships within a company you can predict their success. You can predict the success of their projects, promotions, customer relations, and follow-on work.

This means that you can’t afford to try to fix non-performers for very long. Or even just leave them in place.  Hire slow and fire fast. It sounds cruel, but the rest of the people in your organization deserve it. Do it for them.