Throughout my corporate career, athletic pursuits, personal endeavours and in growing my business, I've had mentors, coaches, friends and colleagues who have been instrumental in my learning and resulting accomplishments. I know first hand the value of having a network of people to turn to for support and inspiration.
In my work as a consultant in the field of mentoring, a common question I hear is “how do I find a mentor?” and more specifically, “how do I find the right mentor for me?” What people are really asking is, “how do I ask for help?” Asking for help is considered one of the top underdeveloped leadership skills. Yet, ask any successful person and they’ll quickly tell how important their mentors have been on their journey.
Mentoring is the act of helping someone learn. It’s a relationship with someone who has experience in a topic of interest to you and is willing to share this knowledge.
1. Ask someone directly. It is simple and the most often overlooked strategy for getting mentoring help. For example, I had to make some decisions that would impact my business over the long term. I sent a couple emails to people I knew asking for advice. Their assistance was invaluable. One woman in particular asked questions and helped me see important aspects of the project that I had missed. You can also create valuable co-mentoring relationships with your colleagues and peers who may seem more easily accessible.
2. Ask around to be connected to someone that has experience with the topic/project you want help with. If you don’t know who can help you, ask colleagues and friends for a contact. Explain what you’re looking for and whether they know someone who could help you. I recently needed input on a project. I asked a runner in my running group if he had the consulting experience I needed. He didn’t but gave me the name of another consultant in the group who did have the experience I was after.
3. Join a community organization or common interest group with a purpose or activity that is of value to you. In my corporate life, I joined women’s executive networks and industry and local HR organizations to support my work and learning in the field of mentoring, leadership, diversity and inclusion. When I started my own business, I joined a variety of women’s entrepreneur groups, both online and in person meetings. To further my knowledge and experience in coaching, I joined an international coaching practitioner group. When I wanted to learn triathlon, I joined the local triathlon club. When I wanted to learn to kayak I joined the local paddling club. In all instances, I met people from whom I could learn and found mentors for both business and personal interests that remain a part of my network. While I’m still a big fan of connecting face to face to create lasting relationships, social media makes it easy to find groups, meet people virtually and stay connected across large geographic regions, even globally.
4. Volunteer with a local charity or community group. You’ll meet a wide variety of people. You never know what knowledge or experience your fellow volunteer has and how s/he might be able to help you or connect you to someone else who can help you.
5. Sign up for a formal mentoring program. You simply may not know or have access to the type of person that can help you depending on how broad or diverse your network is. Formal mentoring programs can provide access to the specialized skills, knowledge or experience you are seeking. While most common in larger organizations, formal mentoring programs are appearing more often in community groups, industry organizations and sport clubs. In the right context with the right structure and participant preparation, formal mentoring programs can be instrumental in connecting mentors and mentees in a wide variety of situations. We are now in the fifth year of our mentoring program in our local triathlon club – a significant factor in enticing people to join the club and try the sport. Having someone to ask questions and from whom to learn may be just the thing a person needs to find the courage to participate.
A mentoring relationship may last one conversation, for the duration of a project, for a defined period of time - which is typically the case in a formal mentoring program, or your mentoring relationship may last a lifetime.
If you have a specific situation for which you’d like input - a one time ‘ask’ - go ahead and ask. Send an email explaining what you need and ask if s/he would be willing to have a conversation with you about it. Ask for a specific amount of time and stick to it. At the end of the conversation, you can ask if it’s ok to check back in with the person at the next stage or for further input if needed. If it’s a project due in 6 months, ask if they’d be willing to mentor you for 6 months while you implement the project. Be direct and respect their response. (Remember for every request, the other person can say yes, no or counter offer. ) Most people like to help. When you are specific and quantify the request in terms of time and duration, the person is likely to say yes. Most importantly, remember to say thank you!
Theory says the best mentoring relationships happen through natural attraction and connection. True enough AND I believe we can cultivate positive productive relationships with a wide variety of people. Mutuality and shared goals lead to desired outcomes. Be explicit in your expectations and create a partnership agreement for how you want to work together. If after one or two meetings, the partnership isn’t meeting your needs or your feel complete, let your mentor know you appreciate the time s/he has given you, the information s/he has shared and that you no longer feel the need to meet. Be gracious and show respect for the value that you did receive.
Invest in your future by building relationships with people in a wide variety of industries, knowledge areas, demographic groups and personal interest areas. The rule of thumb used to be six degrees of separation. With social media, the person you want to speak to might be a click away. You can connect online through meaningful conversations in groups and various platforms. Send private messages to invite a conversation. Search hashtags and topics to see who is talking about your area of interest.
What other ways have you connected with potential mentors? Let’s add to the list in the comments below.
And…remember to reach out to mentor others. Everyone can use a little help along the way at one point or another. We all have experience and knowledge that other people want to learn.