Just as some people are stunned when they suddenly hear a parent’s voice coming from their body, so too was I when I realized a few days ago that I had become my mentor.
That’s not a bad thing. In fact, I still have a long journey to reach his level of wisdom. I was a corporate innocent when I met the business guru who nurtured me fresh out of college more than 30 years ago. Even today there is a canyon of difference between what you learn on campus and what goes on in a company.
You can gain a mentor at any age, but it’s particularly helpful for entry level individuals who can benefit from the experience of a career professional whose work style, knowledge and business ethics you respect. Your mentor does not have to be someone you work with, but mine happened to be my boss. It was not a conscious choice to become his protégé. The relationship just grew, but had I actively sought a mentor, he would have been a good choice. Your mentor typically doesn’t find you, you find them.
His expectations were always higher for me than they were for myself. When I was assigned a task I had no idea how to tackle, he offered a few words on how to figure it out, but didn’t tell me how to do my job. However, once when he when he was particularly disappointed in my performance he tersely asked me if I had managed to graduate kindergarten. Ouch! When I revised my work and turned it in a second time, he nodded and said better, but I knew it was good and that made me feel good about me.
So, if you are a corporate newbie, I encourage you to find a mentor. (And it you are a more “seasoned” professional, think about mentoring a Millennial or two.) To get into the Mentor pipeline, check out your own workplace for a role model, but also consider joining a professional association with a mentoring program to help gain some objectivity for organizational issues. Your mentor doesn’t have to be your friend, but it should be someone you believe has your best interest in mind and can function as a catalyst to inspire your potential. If you are ready to be mentored, these guidelines should help get the relationship off to a good start.
- Respect your mentor’s time. Connect at convenient times by email, phone and in person meetings. Fifteen minutes at Starbucks is easy.
- Bring just one or two issues or questions to your mentor, then listen to what s/he has to say. Don’t offer objections. Come away from the meeting and think about how their suggestion might help you overcome a career obstacle.
- Don’t expect your mentor to solve your problem. Your mentor teaches you how to fish, but he doesn’t feed you. If you want to maximize the relationship make the connection between what you’ve discussed and how you can apply it to your own life.
I believe I have inherited the best (and the worst) of my mentor’s tendencies. I do enjoy helping someone build on their talents, but admittedly, I can be a curmudgeon about it. Still, I hope that what I can offer is exactly what mentoring is all about – allowing my hindsight to become my mentee’s foresight.