Written by Julie Kantor and Karen Osborn, Twomentor
Moving into the challenging professional world is an intimidating journey but thankfully, it doesn’t need to be tackled alone.
Mentorship, from academic to professional settings, is an active and involved process, but the benefits are well worth the effort. According to a survey carried out by Micromentor.org, mentored individuals and entrepreneurs significantly outperformed those who don't receive mentoring. Additionally, a study conducted by the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) revealed that 75% of executives point to mentoring as playing a key role in their careers.
Makes sense! But what we view as a given (that mentoring is happening informally at our companies) is not actually a given. In fact, as we travel the globe running the Mentor Road Trip™ mentor training sessions, we have witnessed firsthand at women’s conferences, at leadership development conferences, at HR executive conferences, at conferences focused on Millennials and multi-gen workforce that well under 50% of attendees answer YES when asked this simple question “Do you have or have you had a professional mentor?”
So how does one go about finding and building a mentoring relationship? Here are five things to focus on when starting your journey:
1. Be Proactive, Committed, and Clarify Your Needs
Mentorship can happen organically, but that is the exception, not the rule. In order to maximize your options, be diligent in figuring out what you are looking for and what your professional or personal goals are. Being passive causes way too much confusion in these budding relationships. Spend an hour and write down 3-5 goals. Reflect on how a mentor can best help you move your vision forward? In what specific areas are you looking for guidance? If you're just looking for a mentor to advance you the next job, that’s not really mentoring. That’s sponsorship.
So where’s the love? People are so isolated at work, so hidden behind computer screens, often unclear how to navigate the professional seas riddled with jellyfish and mysterious sea animals. Asking someone to be a mentor is an investment in your well being... and theirs. A mentor can make you feel plugged in, connected again. That someone out there cares about you and your professional trajectory. This is a big ask that’s mutually rewarding. You need to invest too with your best foot forward. A study by the Journal of Organization Behavior demonstrates that mentored individuals reported having more satisfaction, career mobility/opportunity, recognition and an overall higher promotion rate than non-mentored individuals. A mentor can help you to develop skills, offer career advice, and enhance your network amongst other things, but you again, you first need to understand and determine your own aspirations in order to figure out what type of person will be the best fit. Once you have determined these goals, you can start thinking about your network for ‘fit’ or ask people for introductions. I [Julie] want to scale my company for example, so I started asking people I respect who would be a good mentor to help me specifically with scalability strategy for 3 - 6 months. Start simple, by inviting a prospective mentor for a cup of coffee, tea or lunch, and share upfront that you would love their advice on a few things. Think of this as a first professional date to determine if you can learn from this person, that they want to open up their mental world to you and make sure you have a good and honest rapport.
2. Work on Being Very “Mentor-Able”
Mentorship is a multi-dimensional relationship, and the value of a mentor-mentee relationship comes from applicable knowledge being shared between the two. If you are unwilling to take advice, constructive criticism, or be flexible in your thinking, having a mentor will likely not be a good fit for you. Openness, candor, honesty, listening... all ingredients to this delicate recipe. When looking for a mentor, look for someone that you will work well with, and make sure that you are willing to do your part to be a good mentee. In fact, you will need to take a leadership role in many aspects of this relationship. A study by the National Institute of Health found that the five main characteristics of successful mentoring relationships include: reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connection, and shared values. One thing about being very mentor-able is that your mentor will be much more likely to want to introduce you to other people and keep you in mind for opportunities in the future that might benefit you. Additionally, your mentor might talk about you to other influencers down the line based on your willingness to learn, grow and follow up on good advice towards your goals. If you are headstrong and difficult to work with, your mentor might not want to invest as much time or put their reputation on the line on behalf of you. Never be late for your sessions/meetings.
3. Focus on Your Relationship Structure
You will need to actively and regularly communicate with your mentor, shadow them if possible, and actively pursue educational or professional opportunities with them. We suggest at least one meeting a month for 60-90 minutes. We view in person as best, but a Skype, FaceTime or Zoom online coffee call is fine too. Better to see each other live and really focus... not have someone checking out the latest news on CNN or schedules their next teeth cleaning in the middle of the call. The success of your mentorship relies on the effort you put in, including good follow up, being on time, and don’t expect to find a mentor and have everything happen toward your goals overnight. One thing we see a lot at Twomentor is that people get together but it’s unclear who is suppose to lead the relationship. The mentor expects the mentee to reach out, or the mentee comes to a meeting with no specific questions, goals, or focus. There needs to be some structure, including clear objectives you want to focus on with your mentor. We suggest you write up a one-page vision of how you want to grow and specifics on how your mentor can help you with your goals. It is important that you come to your meeting(s) prepared and with specific discussion topics or questions you have. We suggest you set up your next meeting on the spot when you are together. Keep track of your work and actions so your mentor knows you are taking his/her time seriously and so you have clarity regarding your progress.
4. No Challenge... No Real Growth
We saw a great quote on Pinterest today, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there.” We often grow the most when we are in pain or challenged. If you are not willing to challenge your limits and expand your perspectives, you will not be able to get the most out of your mentor relationship. One of the most important aspects of mentorship is the ability to learn from the experience of your mentor, and apply their lessons to your current and future personal and professional situations. A mentor should continually challenge and push you in order to grow and develop both professionally and as an individual. There is much more value in honest feedback of your strengths and areas of improvements than there is in simple encouragement. Both are valuable, don’t get me wrong. A mentor will be more comfortable offering this type of feedback if they think you genuinely want it. So ask for it. Mentorship fosters personal and professional development, as noted by a Wharton/Gartner study on Sun Microsystems (2006), where employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than those who did not! Additionally, mentors and mentees both had 20% higher retention rates at the company... a WIN/WIN/WIN for the mentor, mentee, and the company better retaining good people.
5. More Than One?
Some people refer to this as having an internal board of advisors. Different mentors have different strengths, experiences, networks, and perspectives. Therefore, they will serve as a mentor to you in different ways or on different priorities you want to focus on. For example, a mentor who is great for supporting creative ideas will help you differently than another who can guide you through business growth and financial planning. A study by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology on internal versus external organizational mentors found that mentoring relationships within an organization serve to provide mentees with career and psychosocial support, while external mentorship relationships focus more on networking and personal development. The more good perspectives and different styles of mentorship you are exposed to, the more you will be able to adapt what you learn to your own personal and professional needs. When looking for a mentor, don’t disregard someone because they are not an expert in all of the areas you’re looking to grow in. Rather, find experts in different fields, and make a few of them your mentors.
There is so much more we can discuss on being mentor-able, but we want to leave you with one last tip.
Show the love (or gratitude). Do something nice for your mentor. Show appreciation each step of the journey. Bring him a Cappuccino, buy her breakfast, send a handwritten card reflecting on something you learned, say thank you. Good friends are worth their weight in gold. A good mentor might be a professional lifeline for you today or a bridge to your success tomorrow.