Robert Frost once said, ‘I am not a teacher, but an awakener’. Do you have someone in your life who ‘awakens’ you? Who do you go to for trusted, confidential advice? Who do you count on as a mentor? If you can’t immediately answer these questions, it’s time to seek someone out. Whether your objective is navigating organizational politics, getting in line for a desired promotion, influencing senior leaders to fund your passion, or total world domination, it is helpful to have someone in your corner to guide you through those head-banging, ‘what is wrong with this picture’, conversations we all have with ourselves from time to time. How can a mentor help?
Lessons Learned: Learning about a mentor’s past experiences, both successes and failures, will provide insight and ideas to inform your own choices. They will stretch your thinking and provide you with a different way to look at things.
Sounding Board: It is invaluable to have a venue to test ideas and discuss your point of view with someone who will challenge you and will hold the conversation in confidence. Unlike when we ‘vent’ to friends to get something off our chest, a mentor will help hone your perspective as well as your argument.
Visibility: A mentor can include you in meetings, events or projects that will help you better understand the company and its culture, people and systems. A personal introduction to a mentor’s contacts can result in an actual meeting rather than a run around trying to get on a busy person’s schedule.
Knowledge: Mentors often have experience in other areas of the business as well as in other industries and organizations. They can pass along tips that will broaden your understanding.
Feedback: Suggestions that help you better utilize your strengths, develop new skills and improve areas of weakness can be beneficial both at work and in your broader life. Feedback truly is the breakfast of champions.
Providing the ‘Ground Truth’: Most organizations and their leaders have a set of written rules and expectations (e.g. cultural values, competencies, and other corporate mantra). In contrast, the ground truth is the real deal. It’s the way things truly get done and includes the agendas, biases, and personality quirks you need to know to successfully navigate the corporation. The ground truth is often unpublished but can be garnered through conversations with someone you trust.
How do you get a mentor?
Make a list of the people you know with influence in your company or industry who have a perspective you respect. These are people who can ‘awaken’ your thinking and approach to company challenges and co-workers. Next, put this list in any order you wish. Personally, I like to use the ‘who would I most want to go out and have a beer with’ method, but you should also consider their proximity, availability, and approachability. After that, just ask. Most professionals will be flattered and would be more than willing to put aside a couple of hours a month to spend with you. It’s highly likely they had a mentor in their career and will be open to paying it forward. You may want more than one, each of whom will bring different perspectives and strengths depending on the situation you’re facing. You’ll certainly want more than one over the span of your career as your needs and objectives change.
As importantly, look for opportunities to be a mentor yourself. As with many things in life, teaching and ‘awakening’ is about both receiving and giving. An often overlooked benefit of mentoring someone else is that the more abilities and influence you help to develop in others, the more influence you develop for yourself. And finally, as mentors as diverse as Yoda, Mr. Miyagi, and Gordon Gekko have taught us, helping others to realize their own power and ability is just plain fun.
Attribution: Photo of Yoda Fountain IOLSF at Yoda Statue by nasir khan saikat [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons