In my blog post “Top Ten Tips for Taking Control of Your Career”, I recommend that you “Find mentor(s) and sponsor(s) to support you. To make progress in your career you will need the help, support and encouragement of others. Take some time to identify those individuals who could assist you in some way. Find a way to inform them of your aspirations and career goals and ask their advice on how best to make progress.”
Great advice, even if I say so myself!
And it’s advice that many successful men and women in business agree with. As Richard Branson says when he talks about the importance of mentoring on his blog. “If you ask any successful business person, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road.“
Most major companies have recognised the value of mentoring. 70% have put formal mentoring programmes in place. I have been proud to help set programmes up for several leading organisations as well as for professional associations and university alumni.
But what if you don’t have the luxury of a formal programme that will help you find a mentor?
When I look back on my own career, I can agree with Richard Branson and others. I can name some key individuals who have been mentors to me and who helped me achieve the success I’ve achieved. And I still have a mentor who I value highly. But all of those people were mentors I found for myself rather than being given to me as part of a formal programme.
How to Find a Mentor
Here is my advice on how to go out and find a mentor for yourself?
Be clear on what you want to gain from a mentor. Take a look at your strengths and weaknesses and at the areas in which you need to improve. What are your goals? What support are you looking for once you find a mentor. When I was working towards a specific promotion in Accenture, I needed a mentor who knew what it would take to be successful – either because they had been through it themselves or because they understood how the promotion board made decisions. As it happened, my mentor had experience of both. And yes, I got the promotion!
Don’t expect to meet all your development needs through one mentor. Different people may be able to support you in different ways. For example, when I joined Avanade as a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft, I had one mentor who helped me understand the Microsoft culture and how it was different to Accenture. And I had another mentor who was very experienced in recruiting IT professionals, a critical requirement for a technology start-up.
Use your network to find a mentor with the skills and experience you are looking for. Start with the people you know. You’ll be amazed at the vast range of potential mentors and sources of information you already have in your existing network. Think about all your friends, colleagues, peers, people you met at a conference, people you met on training courses. LinkedIn can be a real help here. Look through your first-degree connections. Who do you know already who may be able to help?
Think about what you can offer in return. Throughout your search, think about what you can offer in return for your mentor’s generosity. Maybe you’re an expert in a particular area or maybe you can share insights into a different department, company or industry. When I first became self-employed I turned to an old friend for support. He had owned his own business for many years and could share his experience of business development while I was able to help him develop new approaches to training and facilitation. It’s important that the mentor-mentee relationship is a reciprocal one.
Be specific when you ask for support. People are more likely to respond to a concrete request, like a 20-minute coffee meeting to discuss the potential mentor’s career path, than to an open-ended cry for help, which could potentially turn into a huge burden on their time. I have always been very flattered when people have asked for my support but, like everyone, I’m busy and have to manage my time carefully. Ease into the relationship and develop rapport before you ask for too much.
Ask others to help you find a mentor. If you don’t already know someone with the suitable skills and experience you will need to expand your network by making new contacts and asking someone you know to introduce you to a potential mentor. Again, LinkedIn can be a great help here. Look through your second-degree connections and see who you know who could introduce you to a potential mentor. This approach can work well but will take longer because it’s important you build a relationship with the person you’d like to be your mentor. Informal mentors are crucial to success. But the relationships that work best are ones that develop naturally. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, says that she’s often been put in the awkward position of being asked to be a mentor to near strangers. Her response? “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no.”
And finally, be ready to help others who are looking for support. Mentoring others can also be an important part of your development as a leader.
What steps have you taken to find a mentor? What advice would you give others? Please share your thoughts below.