Want to Get Ahead? Get a Mentor

Posted on July 20, 2012.

When I first started my career, the term “mentor” didn’t exist in the business world. Sure, there were leaders you respected and of course they had their favorites, but mentor, what does that even mean? According to Webster, it’s “ a trusted counselor or guide”. I thought you stopped having counselors in College.

Many, many years later, I noticed several of the folks that skyrocketed up the ladder had support from someone within the inner circle.   It may have been a little late for me, but I realized the importance of these kinds of relationships in furthering the career of my top talent.  Here’s what I found can work:

  1. Reach out to someone outside your own silo.  Find someone within the organization that you know is highly respected and fast tracking.  If you don’t know the person personally, find whatever degree of separation gets him or her to take your call.  Be direct and explain you want to establish a mentoring relationship for either yourself or your employee.  Worst case, they say no and you start somewhere else. Usually, unless they are already mentoring others, people are flattered by the offer.
  2. Establish a schedule of one-ones.  Once you’ve identified the mentor, make sure you make it clear what the time commitment will be.  I recommend that the mentor and mentee meet (by phone or in person) at least quarterly for an hour. If you can do it in person, it’s best to go outside the office for coffee or a meal. It makes the conversation less rigid and takes away any potential distractions.
  3. Establish parameters of what’s allowed.  Make sure it’s clear that the purpose of the relationship is not to boast about what a great job your doing or complain about anything. The conversations can center on communicating your aspirations and seeking advice or just developing a relationship where the mentee can share ideas and get feedback. 

The bottom line in establishing mentoring relationships for either yourself or others is to get career advice from someone who’s already “made it”.  If the match is a good one, the mentor will likely take the next step and personally lend a hand. You can try to do it the old fashion way- work hard and hope someone notices, but wouldn’t this be a lot easier?