There are times when I’m about to offer someone advice I catch myself and say, “You know what? You could really benefit from having a good mentor.”
Which is actually pretty good advice.
And you know what? They agree.
Having a healthy relationship with a mentor has no downsides. And a mentor can provide much more than just sound advice.
A good mentor can help you be a better planner, a clearer thinker, in short, an indispensable professional.
Mentors offer experience, coaching, networking, introspection, recognition, encouragement, support, and sometimes just fun and friendship.
But it’s up to the mentee to find and nurture that relationship.
What follows are great thoughts on building a valuable mentor relationship, curated from around the Web.
They Evolve Naturally Over Time
Kathy Caprino is a contributing editor at Forbes who covers leadership and careers, with a focus on women in business.
She says the best relationships are the ones that create themselves and evolve naturally over time. When you ask someone to be your mentor, you should already know the answer is yes. She cites this quote from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean Forward:
“If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.”
Instead, Caprino suggests “finding great mentors through the inspiring people you’re already interacting and working with now. They need to be people to whom you have already demonstrated your potential – who know how you think, act, communicate and contribute.”
It’s About Honesty And Transparency
Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest, told FastCompany she took advantage of great mentoring opportunities.
She says the value of a great mentor is really about their abilities as a person, and not their position or title.
“I absolutely attribute a lot of my success to being in a position where I had a lot of great mentors,” says von Tobel, “people I could go to and ask for advice. The quality of your mentors is really important as a young individual in the workplace, because it really shapes your perspective on how work should be done.
“For example, if you have a mentor that isn’t the most forward thinking or honest, I think that can be a bad thing. I’ve been very blessed to have had mentors that are incredibly honest and transparent and are quality leaders, and I think it has really helped shape who I am as a person.”
Something You Do, Not Something You Get
Ryan Holiday, writing in 99u.com, views a mentoring relationship like dancing, and not a formal arrangement.
“Mentorship is something you do, not something you get,” he says. “In other words, like all relationships, it is a process, not an accomplishment. A mentorship is a flexible and often informal relationship that can vary from person to person and field to field – you might be able to refer to yourself as an apprentice after the fact (I do) but it looks nowhere near as official as that while it is happening.
“While you are looking for a mentorship, never actually use the word. Don’t ask anyone to be your mentor, don’t talk about mentorships. No one goes out and asks someone they’re attracted to be their boyfriend or girlfriend – that’s a label that’s eventually applied to something that develops over time. A mentorship is the same way; it’s a dance, not a contractual agreement.”
4 Don’ts Of Building A Relationship
Dennis Yang, CEO at Udemy, an online learning company, says professionals need to stay on the lookout for a mentor.
“When a strong mentor candidate materializes, you have to be prepared to listen and take it seriously when he or she sizes you up and weighs in on where you need to improve,” Yang says. “You have to be ready to speak openly and honestly about your dreams, fears, and limitations, and you have to be willing to try new things, learn, and grow.”
Yang offers these four “don’ts” when building a relationship that’s rewarding:
1) Don’t label it
“At the time, I didn’t see my second manager as my mentor. I knew he was a caring person who always had worthwhile advice and that I could speak my mind to him in a way I couldn’t with other senior execs. Later, after I moved out of town, started grad school, and transitioned to a different industry, I realized calling him “my former manager” didn’t do him justice. Your perfect mentor might be right under your nose, and you haven’t even realized it yet.”
2) Don’t limit it
“Your mentor doesn’t have to be a CEO or big shot. Your mentor doesn’t need to work in your industry or even be well-connected within it, though that could certainly be helpful. Having a mentor is about so much more than career advancement. A great mentor will also help you develop into a better thinker, problem-solver, and teammate. Mentorships are unmatched for helping you develop soft skills that will serve you well throughout your life in all of your relationships. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and yours could come from anywhere – a teacher, a coach, a retiree, a parent – the list goes on.”
3) Don’t force it
“People can sense when you’re trying too hard to woo a potential mentor. You’re better off going about your regular business and letting connections develop without pressure. But you do have to put yourself out there. While networking events are good for connecting with new peers, they don’t necessarily lend themselves to regular, ongoing contact with someone inspiring. Find a balance so you get what you need from your mentor without demanding unreasonable time and attention.”
4) Don’t neglect it
“Relationships take work, and mentorships are no different. Your mentor may not be your manager, but he isn’t your buddy either. Don’t blow off lunch dates or fail to follow through on things you say you’ll do. Show gratitude and respect for your mentor’s experience, wisdom, and support. It might feel like you’re doing more taking than giving in the relationship, but the best mentors realize they can learn from the experience, too, so be an active participant – not just an empty vessel waiting to get filled with knowledge.”
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