How to Strike Gold When Seeking a Mentor

Finding a mentor is no longer limited to new starts. Now senior leaders are seeking the benefits of a two-way mentoring relationship.

Mentor

This article first appeared in Women’s Agenda.

I am 45 years old and own three businesses. Yet I’ve had three mentors in the past three months. A chairman, who is helping me navigate the new territory of being an international business owner, and two 25 year-olds who have coaxed and coached me on the power of social media.

Mentoring, it never sleeps.

Apparently I’m not the only “experienced” leader who has sought out a more junior executive to be my mentor. Reverse mentoring has become a bit of a trend.

Procurement and business leaders are facing a race to unearth new opportunities and remain relevant in a rapidly changing digital economy. This is causing a shift in the traditional mentoring framework – senior mentor coaching junior mentee – to one that is more collaborative and co-creative.

That’s not to mean traditional mentor relationships should be thrown out. My first mentor was the traditional type. She was someone I respected, who was more senior than me, who took me under her wing and showed me the ropes.

But the lines are blurring. Whether it’s someone with years of experience under their belt or someone with less years than yourself, finding the right mentor fit is key.

Today, many Millennials seem obsessed with finding a mentor, convinced that it is the magic key to career advancement. Sheryl Sandberg, makes the following observation in her book, Lean In:

“I realised that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming,” she writes.

“We all grew up on the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after.”

The important truth is that mentors find you, not the other way around. Sandberg believes we need to stop telling mentees, “Get a mentor and you will excel.” Instead, we need to tell them, “Excel and you will get a mentor.”

So how can you increase your chances of a great mentor relationship?

1. Check that you don’t already have a mentor

Sometimes in large organisations there are lots of people advocating for you – you just don’t realise it. Open your eyes and ears to people who may already be informally mentoring you.

2. Get to know yourself and pinpoint where you need to grow

Self-awareness is one of the most valuable traits you can develop as a leader. We can all be our own greatest critics, but we need to take an honest look in the mirror and really understand and reconcile our opportunities for development.

Sometimes we can be attracted to people who are actually a lot like ourselves, when in reality we need advice from people who have strengths in areas we don’t.

3. Be brave and find an “unreasonable friend”

One of the key take outs I got from Craig Harper, High Performance Coach and Exercise Scientist, was that everyone needs an unreasonable friend. That is someone who just won’t tell us what we WANT to hear, but what we NEED to hear.

We need to be brave enough to have someone like this in our lives, and really take their feedback onboard.

4. Relax and let the relationship unfold

If you consciously know that you want a mentor, you will unconsciously seek out that person. Don’t push the universe too much. Wait for your mentor to evolve naturally, then cultivate the relationship in a measured, professional way.

5. You don’t need just one mentor

Don’t feel like you need just one person to give you the answers to all your development questions. We are surrounded by amazing people that we can learn different things from every day. I’m a prime example of that as I learn from people from all walks of my life!

The great mentors of my life have not been created through formal relationships. They have been created in the workplace based on mutual respect, my desire to learn and my mentor’s willingness to share knowledge, promote me to others and, most importantly, help me believe in myself.