Episode 245: November 26, 2012
by Stever Robbins
Listener Mick writes in:
“I am about to reach out to some senior people in my organization to get mentorship. How can I be sure that I am using the right people and, more broadly, how can I set up the mentoring relationship to succeed?”
Mentors, I just love mentors! They’re chewy and taste great and they explode if you put them in Diet Coke. Oh, I’m thinking of Mentos. I love those, too. But I also love mentors nonetheless. Mentors can help accelerate your career tremendously. A mentor is someone with experience in the realm you’re dealing with, be it a company, an industry, or a difficult situation. A mentor typically gives you guidance, acts as a sounding board, and sometimes actively helps promote you inside or outside an organization.
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Select an Unbiased Mentor
When looking for a mentor, you want someone who can be unbiased and has no conflict of interest with you and your agenda. For example, if you work in a very political encironment and you choose your boss as your mentor, your desire to have her fired and take over her job could be at odds with her desire to turn you into a mindless wage slave who exists only to fetch her coffee. If your mentor’s project competes with yours for budget, headcount, status, recognition, or customers, it can also cause problems.
Select a Mentor With Appropriate Experience
Let’s be honest for a moment, just the two of us. We’d all like to choose the mentor who has the coolest car, washboard abs, and a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, spousal equivalent, or polyamorous family unit who’s so gorgeous they don’t need airbrushing.
Know what guidance you want from your mentor, and choose a mentor who has expertise in that area. If you’re an up-and-coming restaurant manager for Ashley’s Drippin‘-Lickin’-Good Deep Fried Popsicles with entrepreneurial ambitions of someday starting your own restaurant group, you might be looking for a mentor in any of several areas:
Career advancement within Drippin‘-Lickin’-Good
Becoming a prominent thought-leader in the restaurant industry
Entrepreneurship in franchised chains
Find Mentoring From Competent Mentors
And if it isn’t obvious, make sure your mentor is competent in the areas you’ll be wanting guidance. You know that loser who never quite met the sales quota, but is still employed, thanks to being the CEO’s firstborn child? Not the person to go to for sales advice…but perhaps the person to go to for psychological insight into the CEO.
Know where their competence ends, and only take the good stuff.
A funny thing about competence, however, is that it depends on the area. A highly competent salesperson can suck at strategy, and vice-versa. But some competent people believe their competence in one area makes them an expert in other areas. If you choose a mentor like this, take the good stuff, but know where their competence ends, and remember than when deciding what to take seriously.
Approaching a Mentor
Mentoring is a choice someone will make that will take time and expertise. Mentors are a bit like cats. You may like the cute furry one with stripes, but if it doesn’t like you back, you’ll end up with bloody scratches in embarrassing places.
When you approach a prospective mentor, do so in a way that shows the most respect for them, their time, and agenda. Give them some idea of why you chose them and what kind of commitment you would like from them. “Excuse me, Chairperson Bosara? I’ve respected you since arriving at this company. Your judgment in the infamous Twinkie incident was impeccable. I would like to learn to be that awesome. Would you be willing to meet with me quarterly and help me develop that kind of judgment?”
Don’t Make Mentors Do the Work
Your mentor is contributing wisdom. You contribute initiative! Do all the work of contacting your mentor, arranging times to meet, and making it super-convenient for them.
Thank Your Mentor
Mentoring isn't free. Your mentor gets something out of the relationship, too. What they get is the intangible pleasure of helping a promising young person, the way someone once helped them. Or something more sinister, like the chance to betray you at the last minute, turn you into their pawn, and sacrifice your firstborn child in a supernatural quest to take over the Elder Spheres. Whatever it is they get, do what you can to give them respect, help, and appreciation.
Thank them. Send a hand-written Thank You card after you meet. Once you’ve established a relationship, drop them a line occasionally with no agenda other than expressing how much you appreciate your relationship. “Len, your presence in my life has made a huge difference. I appreciate your guidance, perspective, and help. Thank you!” You’ll probably be the first person who’s ever done that. It will make a huge impression.
Ending a Mentorship
All good things come to an end. We know that because entropy always increases. But even before that, mentoring relationships may come to an end. When that happens, you may elect to remain friends, or you may cut ties altogether. Check out my previous episode on how to gracefully move on from a mentor for details.
Eric Pasinski saw me speak in public and asked me to mentor him. He's taken the initiative to pursue me even when I've been busy and non-responsive. He gets on my calendar. He travels to me, he's respectful of my time, and he sends gracious, hand-written thank-you cards. When we get together, I happily share advice, perspective, and contacts I would charge thousands for with a regular consulting context . Hmm… I do give him an awful lot. I wonder if he's planning on having a firstborn child. I only need one… Bwah hah hah hah hah!
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!