In last week’s blog, I talked about how mentors made a tremendous difference in my career and the characteristics of outstanding mentors. I was asked a great question about “How to select mentors?” To put my comments into context, I’m going to first review when you need mentors and who they should be, then I will suggest tips on how to select them.
When you need mentors
Opposite to prevailing wisdom, mentors are more important in the middle and later stages of your career; reason being, you have more personal and professional responsibility at these times. As a result, your decisions are more impactful to you and to others. Specifically, you need mentors whenever you are faced with the following five situations:
Take on a new responsibility: Most people fail in new roles because they think that what got them there will keep them there. (i.e., they keep using the same style when it is not appropriate for the new situation.)
Face a major challenge: Often when confronted with a major challenge, we tend to focus on the obstacle -- which may seem larger than you can handle based on how you see the situation—rather than how to overcome it.
Have made a major mistake: You will be mentally spending too much time “Shoulding” on yourself instead of focusing on how to move forward. (i.e., I shouldn’t have done that; I should have done that; That should not have had happened to me; etc.)
Have had a major disappointment: You will be very angry that it was not you who was selected, or it was you who is being unfairly blamed, or it was your idea that someone else is getting credit for, or people are listening to everybody but you. Mentally, you are ready to either open up a can of kick-ass or open the door and haul ass. That James Brown song “The Big Payback” is playing in your mind. Always remember that you never make good decisions or say the right things when you are mad.
About to make a big decision: Every of us has conscious and unconscious bias that affect our decision making. When you review the decision with someone who can look at it with fresh eyes, you get a better perview of both your bias and a often a wider spectrum of options.
If you are in one of these situations, don’t do anything without discussing it first with a mentor. Now, let’s talk about who you should talk with.
Who to look for in a mentor
It is critical when you are looking for advice, that you talk with the right person(s) because the last thing you want during those times is bad advice. Indeed, I remember times in which people came to me looking for advice on how to deal with a bad boss. Before I had an experience working for a bad boss, I was giving people terrible advice. I should have been sued for malpractice. I gained so much wisdom working for that person because he was such a bad boss. I was able to give great advice after that experience.
When looking for a mentor, consider:
Someone who has been in your position and is at least one to two levels higher in the organization. As a result, the person will have both empathy and sagacity.
Someone who is in a related field, profession, or community.
Someone who is well-connected because if she doesn’t have the experience, she knows someone to connect you with who does.
It is also important that you always have two mentors: One within the organization, and another outside of it. That way you will get both an internal and external perspective to base your decisions and actions on.
How to select your mentors
Here’s how to identify and reach out to your potential mentor(s):
You will first identify them because you will either notice something about the person that you respect or someone else who you respect said that you should reach out to that person. The respect has to be more than the title or wealth the person has. It has to be based on who the person is. It is essential that it is someone you respect because there will be times in which your mentor gives you advice different from what you were thinking. You won’t listen to it if you don’t respect the person. There will also be times in which a senior person will reach out to you and say, “Setup some time for us to talk.” Take heed when that happens because the person is reaching out for a reason. She knows that something is going on in which you need advice on. Don’t spend time trying to figure how the persons knows; focus on what the advice is.
Reach out to potential mentors you don’t know by finding someone who does to make an introduction for you. If you can’t find someone, then reach out directly not through email because that is too anonymous and people already receive too many unsolicited emails. Either call for an appointment or walk up to the person the next time you see her. Don’t be disappointed if she says she doesn’t have the time. Don’t be surprised if she then recommends someone else to you. If she doesn’t, seek out the next person on your list. Be persistent because someone will say, “Yes.”
In summary, you will experience greater personal and professional success by having the right mentors, seeking out and absorbing their advice. As, I have previously mentioned, the number one thing I would do differently in my career is to have sought out advice more often than II did. To my mentees, you all have made me proud and I have learned more from you than you did from me. Lets keep on making a difference in the lives of others, James.