There’s no question that having a mentor is a good thing. A mentor is someone who has experience, can be trusted and both encourages and supports you. Who wouldn’t want this kind of person in their life? But that leaves one question, what are the keys to building a lasting relationship?
Where do I find a mentor?
Most often making that mentorship connection happens by chance – as Sheryl Sandberg says in Lean In you don’t go around asking people “Are you my mentor?” Think about finding someone who has walked the path you’re currently going down or the path you want to be on. It would be easier if you had someone to guide you, someone you can learn from, right? More often than not you’ll lean towards someone of the same sex – while this certainly isn’t a requirement it may make it easier to connect. But don’t stop yourself from forming a mentoring relationship just because you don’t have access to the right women – men have plenty of knowledge to share about shaping careers.
Is there a formal “ask” when it comes to mentoring?
We agree that you wouldn’t approach a stranger and ask her to be your mentor but what about when you start to feel that connection? Do you ask someone then to be your mentor? There is no right or wrong answer – it really depends on the nature of your relationship. There are times it may not even be obvious to the two parties that “mentoring” is going on – that means it is naturally occurring. But if you have a bit of “type A” in you (you know the kind of person who lined up their prom date in January) then once you’ve established that connection, make the ask. If the connection is real it’s unlikely the mentor will say “no.”
3 keys to a building a strong mentorship
The best relationships are two-sided. If you want to get the most out of your mentorship you need to play an active role. Doing so makes it more likely that it will be authentic and lasting. Follow these three steps to help you find and build your relationship.
- Identify someone you look up to. Since mentoring is more informal you’re going to get more out of it if you find someone who has the traits you want to emulate. Look for someone who leads by positive example. Then apply those examples when you need it most. If you’re struggling in a conversation with a co-worker and aren’t sure how to handle it think about what your mentor would do and apply that same technique.
- Ask for feedback. Let your mentor know that you welcome feedback – both good and bad. Most people find it easier to give praise and harder to deliver difficult messages. Be realistic and recognize that you don’t do everything perfectly so make the effort to ask your mentor to tell you what you’re doing well and what you could improve upon. A good rule to follow is that people learn more from their mistakes than from doing things right all the time. Use your mentor to help you find these opportunities for learning.
- Stay in touch. Any good relationship depends on both people playing an active role. Don’t wait for the mentor to invite you for coffee or lunch. Take as much initiative as she does in maintaining your relationship. She’ll appreciate that it doesn’t always fall on her to set up those check-in conversations. When you are together spend time getting to know her by asking different types of questions. Don’t limit all of your questions to work. The most useful and interesting thing you learn may come from her stories about her family or traveling.
In PWL’s Podcast Adele Abrams: Keys to Successful Mentorship she shared a great guiding thought for all mentorships: “Stop looking at other women as competition – look at them as resources.” Sharing knowledge for success with other women is the best way to advance all women.