For almost a decade, I’ve been a mentor to other professionals in need of guidance, but personally, I didn’t have formal counseling for many years. Part of the reason for this was that I was having difficulty finding a suitable mentor with whom I could develop a fruitful relationship.
The experience introduced me to the complex process that goes into building a relationship with a new mentor. And as a career coach, I’m constantly seeing my executive clients struggle with the same process.
Below are four strategies for finding and collaborating with mentors who can help elevate your career and (especially if you’re trying to change industries) reach your goals. . I turned to these tips to find opportunities for myself as well as guide my executive clients toward their next professional objective.
Take advantage of moments of micro-advice
If you’re a self-starter, you’re probably familiar with the process of burning your own scar. I know this process too. This meant that I often found myself in unfamiliar territory, needing to explore areas that were outside my wheelhouse. The position created frequent opportunities for me to seek “micro-advice” moments—or casual contact points with people who had expertise in specific places I lacked.
For example, if you’re creating an event that includes a large component focused on people, it might make sense to reach out to industry experts who lead programs in the same circle as you. You can reach out to HR professionals to ask for information on their best practices and topics such as payroll costs, recruitment trends, and talent development.
To take advantage of micro-mentoring is to put your ego aside and admit that you know nothing. It requires believing that you can learn from everyone you meet and asking them to share their knowledge with you. If you use this approach, you’ll be able to absorb moments of micro-advice wherever you go.
consider your relationship to be mutual
From the very beginning, it is not always possible to start with a traditional consulting relationship, in which you are mentored by someone more employed or experienced in your industry. If you haven’t had this opportunity yet, try looking a little closer to home. You can begin your mentorship journey by mutual consultation with a colleague, which can help build an effective relationship and provide an accountability partner for each other’s success.
While receiving and giving counseling with a peer means your advisor will be on the same level or share similar experience, it’s still a great way to gain professional insight and observation from someone you trust.
In my own experience, I tapped into the interpersonal peer-mentoring relationship at work for many years as a mid-level leader and early executive. Over those years, my peer mentor and I helped each other grow in key areas in our careers, constantly supporting each other. I helped him identify and understand workplace politics while he taught me to do in-depth financial analysis and forecasting for my budgets and business cases, reducing the very real conflict with Microsoft Excel.
Clarify what type of guidance you want
I once started a mentor-mentee relationship with a senior member of my company’s executive team. Of all the executions at the time, I felt closest to him and believed that our values were most closely linked. We had worked on a number of projects together, and I admired how his approach with clients and stakeholders felt uncompromising and trustworthy, which brought ease to everyone around him.
But when we met to explore a counseling relationship, it felt disjointed. Our conversation was awkward; We both felt that nothing was flowing. I realized later that the disconnect was not just about communication styles, but that I failed to bring clarity to the relationship, including what I wanted from her advice. A healthy counseling relationship is one in which the mentee has clear goals to support, and feels solid about the career path chosen, at least in the near term.
There are several career milestones that usually warrant a mentoring relationship. When you’re promoted and you feel like it’s a great deal of responsibility for you, a properly sophisticated mentor is a true advantage. If you have received feedback that you can improve on one of your skills or job capabilities, a targeted mentor with expertise in these areas can fuel your development. Should you reach a point in your career where you feel you are at a crossroads with your current organization, but not entirely clear, the perspective of an experienced external (or trusted internal) consultant should help you make that clear. What is really important about your next step.
Create a Consulting “Wish List”
To help gain clarity on what your specific mentoring needs are and what your ideal mentor will bring to the table, it’s helpful to list a few key points about what you expect their profile and background to look like—or “Wish List”, if you will. For example, when I did this exercise, I looked for mentor alignment on the following aspects:
- Self-description as an entrepreneur with at least a dozen employees of a profitable, growing startup.
- It understands what it feels like to risk its own money, stability, and relationships to build a business.
- Bootstrapped his enterprise.
- Feels personally connected to the mission of a business as it is making the world a better place.
- Enjoy sharing experiences and knowledge in an open manner.
In order to gain more insight into what I wanted as a mentor, I also wrote down important facts about my personal and professional past that may affect mentorship. Later, I described the first three years of my business’s growth, detailing my service offerings, contractors, and financial statements. I also shared my business philosophies and personal truths.
While taking the time to articulate all of this can seem like a lot of work, it helps you understand why you really want a mentor, what type of mentor you look for, and build a new relationship. What are the ultimate benefits of a Guru.
Tegan Trovato is the founder of Bright Arrow, an executive and team coaching firm. She has served as an executive or leadership team member for Levi Strauss, Xerox, Zynga and Cielo.