The mentor match game
Find someone who has the time, the commitment and the values
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It doesn’t matter who you are and/or what your job is, there will be times during your career when you second-guess yourself. You question whether or not to stay with your current employer. You question and struggle with what you thought was your passion. You’ve tried some lateral moves, taken some short-term enrichment positions and perhaps held the role of an acting manager. Yet, there is still a lingering sense of dissatisfaction.
On the other hand, you may be someone who loves their job. You recognize that you have found your passion and enjoy working for your employer but are not happy with your current status. You want to learn more about how to navigate the political structure, to develop relationships with executive leaders and to seek a higher level on the promotional ladder. Yet, you can’t seem to “crack” the so called “in crowd” that might carry you to the top.
In my view, individuals who experience either of these career issues would benefit from having a mentor, either within or external to the organization. A mentor is essentially a support person, someone who can share some of their real-life lessons, make introductions to various key networks and facilitate personal introductions to key people.
Mentors, especially those with senior-level experience can assist individuals to set more realistic goals and hold them accountable. Mentors can offer encouragement and enhance one’s motivation when encountering challenges that feel overwhelming. Mentors can provide objective and constructive feedback and can be a trusted ally. Overall, working with a mentor will increase your knowledge and political acuity, expand your network and build confidence.
No matter what, there is still a challenge with mentorship and that is, how to choose someone best suited to your needs. The following guidance will be of assistance.
Mentorship requires regular meetings and discussions so one of the most important criteria is to select someone who is available, accessible and committed to sharing their expertise. Successful mentorship needs someone willing to be with you and not in a hurry to end a meeting or cancel meetings on a frequent basis.
Focused on someone you admire and respect, not only for their career success but for their reputation as a leader. Someone who is people oriented, respects others, is big-picture oriented and progressive. Ensure your mentor candidate has a reputation for integrity, honesty and kindness.
Good listening skills
Seek out a mentor who is curious and known for his/her listening and empathy skills. This type of mentor can steer you in the right direction by teaching you to assess challenges and opportunities rather than just giving the answers. Good listeners typically take time to hear what you are saying and can reflect this back to you in discussion. Look for someone who is curious with a talent for asking questions and listening to your responses.
A good mentor who is authentic is very self-aware and happy with themselves as they are. They are able to acknowledge their limitations and have realistic expectations of themselves. They are open, honest and objective in their feedback and are not afraid to challenge your thoughts or proposed actions.
A mentor should accept you as you are and not project their own biases or attitudes on you and/or your decisions. They seek balance in how they would like to see you make decisions and help you to build the skills needed to avoid overreacting to people’s choice of words, actions or reactions. A good mentor is an observer of life and organizations but who is able to withhold judgment.
Strategy and goal oriented
A good mentor is someone with the ability to see the big picture and pay attention to the details. They have well-developed skills in setting personal and organizational goals with timelines and accountability factors. Moving ahead in one’s career requires strategy and goal-setting so make this a priority when selecting a mentor.
Whenever you have people, you have politics. Thus, a good mentor is a people person, someone who has good political acuity for sensing and dealing with the challenges, dangers and opportunities in an organization. A good mentor will teach how to observe and assess interpersonal relationships and help guide choices, behaviours and decisions to navigate and achieve goals.
Successful mentors are themselves continuous learners in their own career. They are typically well-read and belong to several organizations where they can acquire a continuous stream of industry information. They seek out others in leadership for networking and information sharing. A mentor with this background can offer a wealth of information, guidance and connections to people and resources.
A good mentor has already developed a number of networks both within an organization and in the community. They are involved in many different organizations and know a variety of people from different backgrounds. This gives them a broad general picture of people relationships and the wisdom to navigate multiple situations.
A mentor with the skill of being open-minded can assist you to look at both sides of any issue and to weigh the evidence fairly and consistently. Being open-minded means learning to review of variety of ideas, arguments or information so that you can think critically and rationally.
Choosing the right selection criteria for your mentor is one thing, the other challenge is where and how to find the right mentor. First of all, define what you are looking for and what your needs are. Ask others where they found their mentors, look for leaders you admire and who would understand your work environment and industry sector. Be observant when attending industry and professional association events and identify individuals with potential. Think about a previous manager who has been promoted and/or moved to another company.
Strategize on how to make contact. Look for a trusted individual who could make the introduction. Ask the potential mentor for an informational interview and provide the individual with your goals and objectives. Whereas it sometimes helps to have more than one mentor for different issues, be sure to add several people to your list.
Keep in mind that your selected mentor does not need to be a lifelong relationship. Keep your goals in mind and as you grow, search for additional people who can assist you with your career growth.
Source: The Five Values that Great Mentors Share, Leadership Strategy, Patricia Duchene, May 21, 2019; 13 Good Mentor Qualities plus Tips on how to find a mentor, Indeed, Nov. 4, 2022.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCPHR, B.Ed, M.Ed, CCP is a human resource professional, author, radio personality, speaker, executive coach and workshop leader. She can be reached at email@example.com.