Let me be straightforward. I am a flaming fan of mentorship. As I’ve served as mentor and grown as a mentee (protégé), I’ve become a believer, although there were bumps along the way that I learned to overcome. I’m grateful for my life-changing mentors.
Hoping to help you reach your goals through mentorship, here are a few things I learned to look for.
Seek a mentor who will provide honest and constructive feedback.
Yep, it can feel uncomfortable sometimes. However, if your mentor cannot tell you what he or she is really thinking, with intentions to help you, then you haven’t yet found the best mentor for you. For me, it took some time to learn that all feedback is a gift. Each of us has the choice to accept it or to put it aside. When you’ve chosen the right mentor and you’ve nurtured a trusting relationship, the feedback can be invaluable to your growth. Ask for it, if you’re not getting it; it’s fine to “start small.”
Trust and confidentiality are non-negotiable.
This is your career and you have the power to find mentors who will allow you to speak from your heart and not worry about leaks. Sometimes we all need to have someone listen for the emotion and for the real person. You know. The you who abandons the façade of corporate-speak; the you who has been hurt. Look for mentors who value staff as human beings and demonstrate they will not betray trust and confidences. Sadly, I’ve mentored colleagues who were brutalized and harmed by previous mentors, who were not trustworthy and confidential.
A very successful leader and mentor once told me that we never know what battles people are facing. Our mentors need to factor in that concept, as they listen and honor and support our journey.
Is your potential mentor a decent person?
This is not a warm and fuzzy question. It’s critical criteria.
Have you observed potential mentors treating others respectfully, finding satisfaction when others do well, being respected in the organization and showing integrity in every situation? Then you’ve hit pay dirt. Finding those with honor, who sincerely care about you and your growth, is a godsend. I can say many mentors have become lifelong friends because they cared about me and showed it.
Don’t look for just one mentor.
Never “a mentor,” but “mentors”—that’s our goal. So you have more than one search to do! And more than one opportunity to learn and grow.
Back in the day, I incorrectly sought one all-knowing rock star mentor, who could sprinkle me with success juice, for every problem, question, knowledge gap and opportunity I had. I thought my role was to just show up and be mentored. Sigh…. I quickly learned the good mentors will ask you what you want from them. Specifically. Make sure you are clear and concise on what you expect to learn and experience towards your goals. Some mentees have benefited from establishing written goals and timelines with their mentors. This keeps both of you on point and with heightened awareness of demanding work lives. When you’ve approached your mentors this way, they’ll know they can share their networks and resources with you.
As you give up the idea of that one “everything” mentor, look instead for alignment with your current roles and opportunities and your short- and long-term goals. In mentoring, you are in the driver’s seat. And it is not a self-driving vehicle.
What’s in it for the mentor? Be ready to make that case.
Embrace this truism: a mentoring relationship is a win-win. The Gartner Research organization discovered that successful mentors are six times more likely to be promoted and receive higher rates of pay increases than non-mentors. Additionally, mentors are generally perceived as “best and brightest” in their organizations. Not a bad “street cred” for the mentors—and their mentees—to enjoy. Feel confidence in the initial mentoring requests, recognizing there is much evidence that you’ll both likely be rewarded and fulfilled.