Guest post by Nigel Dessau:
I have never met anyone who was successful in life who did not have at least one mentor. Having good mentors indicates that you have a great network—something every 21st century executive and leader should have. However, finding the right mentor can be a challenge.
A few years ago, I worked for a company that was acquired by Sun Microsystems. I was undecided about whether to stay with Sun after the acquisition, so I consulted with one of my mentors.
My mentor was very supportive of the move to Sun. He noted correctly that, as a Silicon Valley company, Sun offered a very different organization compared to the companies I had worked for. He emphasized Sun’s speed and innovation and the fact that having Sun Microsystems on my resume would be a very good thing.
Ultimately, I considered his input and the overall impact of taking on the role on my own personal portfolio. I accepted the job at Sun. Today, I believe that the skills and experience the job provided were instrumental in rounding out my character and helping my career growth. My experience with Sun helped significantly in my getting my next job.
Do you need a(nother) mentor?
While searching for the right mentor, you need to consider why you want to develop that relationship. What do you hope to get out of it? Your answers will help you identify potential mentors who can meet your needs.
Most people seek a mentor because they know they need help in certain areas of their work or personal lives. If you want someone to help you improve in your current role, then you need to look for someone who has a background similar to yours, but with more depth and experience. Sometimes, you want someone to be your mentor simply because you respect her as an individual, considering what she has accomplished and what you think you can learn from her.
What to Look for in a Mentor
Finding the right mentor is similar to dating. You need to meet a lot of people and not everyone will be the right fit. Before starting a mentor relationship, talk a few times about both parties’ expectations for the relationship.
In these conversations you determine if you both can find the common ground that is the foundation of any good mentoring relationship. In other words, don’t get married until you have dated for a while.
When deciding to ask someone to be your mentor, you should consider three questions:
- Is this someone I can relate to and does this person have what I need? Sometimes, we expect a mentor to be a parental figure. At other times, the mentor serves as confessor. There are a variety of mentor relationships. The core of any positive mentor relationship should be some commonality of experience and viewpoint.
- Does this mentor have a background that is different enough from mine? Although relating to your mentor is important, an effective mentor cannot be your mirror image. You need someone whose experience is not exactly the same as yours. Look for someone who has worked in a different function, role, department, country, company or some combination of these.
- Will this person push me? There is no point to having a mentor who agrees with everything you say and reinforces your own perceptions. Intentionally find someone who will push you and take you to the next level in your career and development.
A mentor relationship is a sharing relationship. If you want to avoid ‘Muddle Management,’ you also want to avoid ‘Muddle Mentoring.’ Your mentor is not your psychiatrist. He or she is more of a management consultant. Here are some steps to building a stronger mentor relationship:
- Think about this relationship not just in terms of what you can get out of it, but what you can and are willing to put into it.
- Build a relationship based on trust and honesty. If you don’t think you can do that, you may have the wrong mentor.
- Think through how you will manage the mentor relationship. Too many people make the mistake of assuming their mentors will drive the whole experience forward.
- Respect your mentor’s time and make sure you use it wisely.
- If the mentor relationship is not working out, you need to consider your part in the problem and take whatever steps necessary to make things right or end the relationship
- Consider whether your expectations for the mentor relationship are reasonable. You cannot expect a mentor to do your job for you or to give you all the answers.
- Don’t limit yourself to one mentor. Different people bring different perspectives to your life. Having multiple mentor relationships can provide you with a strong sounding board before you make decisions or take action on something.
Nigel Dessau is the author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack. As a nationally award-winning marketing professional with over 25 years of experience leading corporate marketing and communications for several multi-million and billion dollar companies, he is also the creator and driving force behind the 3 Minute Mentor website, which provides significant career guidance in three-minute videos.