When most people think about finding the perfect mentor, they may often think of someone they look up to who can give them the one-on-one attention they wouldn’t otherwise receive. But finding the perfect mentor is so much more than that and is key to pursuing true career success.
Whether you feel stuck in your career path or are simply wanting access to better leadership opportunities, a mentor is part of the secret sauce of making that happen.
In my book, Gracious and Strong, I share how I spent a season earlier in my career falling victim to a limiting belief of thinking “I can do this myself.” I believed if I kept my head down and focused on working harder than anyone else and delivering good results, my work would speak for my value and potential.
Still, why were promotions being given to others, and why was my work not broadly recognized? It took me years to learn that networking was not a self-serving activity, one I had no time for. Busting through this belief window gave me the freedom to see the importance of building strong networks and learning from mentors.
Here are six things most get wrong when it comes to finding and keeping the perfect mentor. I’ve even included a free bonus for you to download that will help you as you process and determine your next mentor relationship.
‘Fishing’ with a broad net.
Fishing is what happens when you don’t have a specific goal or result in mind for selecting the right mentor. It’s when you openly ask for mentorship without a purposeful intention about the expected outcome. Be sure to clearly identify what you want to learn or accomplish and why they as a leader are a complementary match to help you achieve your goals.
Aren’t specific about their needs when making ‘the ask’.
Mentees must have skin in the game. If the burden rests on mentors, mentees may never achieve what they truly want from this relationship. You have to know what you want going into the ask. Share your obstacles, your goals and how their leadership traits can help get you where you want to go. Tell them:
- Why they are the individual you’re selecting,
- How their leadership traits can help you move forward, and
- Specific obstacles and goals they can help you achieve.
Expecting one mentor to serve all of your needs.
Don’t expect one mentor to serve all of your needs. The outcome of the mentor relationships are not forever formal relationships. They should shift into these three transitional stages of mentorship.
- Sunset stage — This stage is when you define a formal beginning and a formal end to a single mentor relationship. You most likely don’t have the capacity to build a relationship with many mentors all at once. Sunsetting allows you to build your mentor relationship effectively for a season of time. This doesn’t mean you end the relationship altogether, instead, it’s a way for you to have short-term mentor arrangements (lasting up to six months to a year). If done well, you will gain tremendous value and stay connected with them long-term.
- Transition stage — After the sunset stage, you should evaluate your progress and determine your next set of needs. Perhaps with one mentor, you need leadership development but the next mentor may help you fill a skills gap such as P&L management and expertise. The next may help you navigate within your organization successfully. Whatever gaps you need to fill moving forward, be sure to identify them at this stage.
- Selection stage — This stage is about selecting the appropriate next mentor and making the ask. When this is done successfully, mentoring allows you to build upon each relationship and the process becomes a continuous loop.
Not having an ‘owner’s mindset’ of the relationship.
If you think a mentor will own the meeting times, locations and agenda of each session, you’re wrong. Mentors are giving you the gift of their time and wisdom – you have to own everything else. Start by having a face-to-face conversation about how often you’d like to meet and what outcomes you desire from this relationship.
Failing to implement the advice given by your mentor.
Actually doing and following the advice of your mentorship is critical to building an ongoing relationship. A mentor expects you to do something with the advice they give you. If they don’t see that kind of activity from you, they probably won’t make it a long-term relationship. The mentee has to own doing the follow-up and accepting the advice and suggestions that are offered.
Missing out on remarkable bonding experiences.
The most fun I ever had in a mentor relationship was with a group of women who took ownership of an all-day outing. 20 of us jumped on a bus and had lunch with the First Lady of Arkansas at the Governor’s Mansion. We then met with the leadership team at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The best part? All I had to do was connect them to my network. I didn’t have to touch the planning process at all. The leaders of the group simply shared with me the development experiences of the day and I showed up and brought my best insight for the road trip there and back.
Think of what might be a remarkable bonding experience for you and your mentor to take part in. Perhaps it’s a luncheon, a charity function or conference? You may even share a hobby with them like running and may consider inviting them to join a marathon race with you.
CELIA’S INSIDE TIP: Don’t assume your mentor is too busy for you outside of your set mentoring session times. Instead, make sure the event is as special as the mentor you invite and simply ask if they’re interested. Even if they’re not available, they’ll appreciate the thoughtful ask.
The power of mentorship was foreign to me. It was not until I lifted my head up to see that if I wanted to progress in my career, I needed a broad base of people who knew me, my value, and my work. I realized that I needed to study the characteristics which were respected and rewarded. And I needed to articulate my personal leadership values and behaviors and to model them in my daily journey.
I became a student of successful leaders and the company culture. I assessed my gaps and asked individuals who could help me close those gaps to become my mentors. What about you? Will you do the same?