What would it feel like to have someone walk your career path with you, believing in you every step of the way, even during those times when all you feel is inadequate, overwhelmed and, at times, hopeless?
The right mentor is there for you through the good and hard times. They know their role as a mentor and they take it to heart, helping you find your internal confidence so that you can have that career success. They are multi-talented and resourceful as they help you navigate your way forward. You can make the mentoring relationship a breeze by knowing your goals for the relationship up front and staying committed throughout the process. After reading this article, you will feel eager to get started because you learned how to find the right mentor at work which will allow you to identify and reach out confidently to a new mentor.
What is a Mentor?
Over the course of my career, I have had wonderful mentors to walk this journey with me. I value the time investment, resource sharing and accountability from my mentors. Their wisdom helped me leverage my strengths and rise faster than I ever imagined. A mentor is a role model, who I admire because of their sage advice, vast knowledge and diverse experience. For me, my mentors also are leaders who don’t shy away from hard decisions and encourage me to be courageous in my career.
In my first professional job, I was fortunate to have a fabulous mentor who also happened to be my boss. Nancy was a phenomenal woman who worked her way up to partnership at the law firm, breaking through the glass ceiling to become the first female partner – a title she wore proudly. She was an accomplished litigator with many trial wins under her belt. She excelled even more in her writing and often her cases didn’t see the light of the courtroom because she beat her opponents on written motions. On the business side, Nancy navigated even the most demanding client relationships with ease.
As a brand-new associate, Nancy was intimidating and I worried about whether I would live up to her expectations. She quickly took me under her wing, taught me the ropes of trial work and let me second-chair a trial with her early in my career. She invested time in reviewing my work and providing me feedback with the dreaded red pen. I eventually came to like that red pen as it challenged me to do better and to grow even more as a writer so that I, too, could be successful at winning cases through written motions. She shared with me the tricks and tips of client relationships and helped me build those critical relationships. I always look back with gratitude that I had such a great mentor in my first professional job.
Qualities of a Great Mentor
“The key to being a good mentor is to help people become more of who they already are – not to make them more like you.” –Suze Orman, Personal Finance Expert
I couldn’t agree more with Ms. Orman. While mentors have an array of qualities, the one thing all great mentors have in common is a desire to make you a better version of yourself, instead of trying to conform you to fit someone else’s mold. I’ve been assigned mentors in my life who wanted me to be someone I wasn’t. They recognized that I was focused and disciplined on achievements for myself and wanted me to “tone it down” because it made others look bad in my office. Instead of celebrating my unique strengths, I was made to feel like I was a misfit and unwelcome.
Thankfully, I figured out quickly that those mentor relationships weren’t for me and that I needed to find mentors of my own who embraced my unique strengths. And, when I did, I found fabulous mentors with the following qualities. My mentors are trainers, teaching me how to grow my wings as a litigator, leader, coach, speaker and more. They motivate me when I am down and help me pick myself up after hard losses. They always ground me with sage advice about how to navigate the way forward, even while encouraging me to “go for it” when the road seems risky. They are always standing by to offer support when I need it most, because, let’s face it, we all want someone to reassure us when we’ve messed up. They help give direction when I am unsure of where to go or when I stray from what’s best for me. They coach me so that I can uncover the right path for me and not duplicate their path. They know my goals, are goal-oriented themselves, and provide accountability as I progress toward my goals. Finally, they are always at the ready to celebrate my successes with me.
If you are daunted by this list and think it’s impossible to find someone who fits all those criteria, then pick a few criteria and start looking for someone you admire and see which criteria they fit. My guess is that if they are truly a quality person, you will find they fulfill more criteria than you expect.
Making Mentoring Work
Mentoring is a time investment by both parties, so make it easy on your mentor to say yes by being prepared. I know from experience that it can be frustrating to have someone request to be mentored only to find that they have no idea what they want from the mentoring relationship even after spending quite a bit of time exploring that issue. It’s okay to have a few ideas about what you want, just don’t show up with no ideas. You’ve spent time studying these potential mentors and landed on someone. At your first meeting with them, be prepared to share why you feel you need this mentoring relationship and what you hope to accomplish by being mentored by them. You’ll also want to be prepared to discuss the frequency of meetings. Weekly is often too much of a time commitment for the mentor, so consider every two-to-three weeks. This gives you time to apply what you’ve learned and come back with an update and another opportunity to grow. And, ask if it’s okay to email them between meetings if something urgent comes up that you want to run by them.
As you move forward with the relationships, bring topics to the session that are meaningful to you. This can be an urgent workplace issue that you are working through, learning how to navigate politics in the workplace, uncovering how to do your job more effectively, gathering advice on promotions or raises, identifying resources and opportunities to develop leadership skills, or even talking through personal issues or thoughts that may be holding you back.
I find that there is often a growth curve to these relationships. They start off strong as you’re excited to get to work with this new relationship and accountability. However, somewhere between the fifth and eighth meeting, the newness wears off and the growth path gets harder. It’s then that you need to lean in and double down on your efforts, instead of cancelling meetings and stopping your hard work. Let your mentor know that you need an added dose of encouragement during those times. They will be ready to give it as they can relate to where you’re at. When you come out the other side and find that new success, you will have someone by your side ready to celebrate with you.
When looking for a mentor, find someone who wants to help you be the best version of you. This will be someone who wants to celebrate your big wins with you and encourage you when the road gets hard. Great mentors have a wide-array of qualities and stand at the ready to support you in any way that you need.
Make the mentor relationship easy by being prepared and letting the mentor know specific needs you have as you grow. If you’re as fortunate as I am, you’ll find friends for life in your mentors.
Download my My Vision Companion Workbook today and identify that mentor who can help you achieve your career vision.