IT Employment

If you don't have a mentor, now's a good time

In demanding times, you need as much "backup" as you can get. One of the best, says leadership and career coach John M McKee, is a mentor. In this article he provides some tips about getting the right one.
 "I think my mentor is one of the key reasons for my continued success, despite all the other things going on. And what he has shown me during our time together would have taken me years to figure out on my own."

That comment was the reply to a question I'd posed to an individual who's been very successful working in an organization that is known for being very difficult to move into from the "outside".

I'm a big advocate of mentors. If more people took on this role, there may be less work for some coaches, but generally speaking I think the activities of each are different:

- Coaches are trained to help clients move forward successfully. Often, they'll provide a perspective that others internally simply cannot.

- Mentors are usually experts in the field or a particular organization. They know a lot about how to succeed in a given environment and "who's who".

Both individuals provide real benefit. They can help you get things done more quickly, often with less energy. And, in a difficult economic climate, they may be able to help you move forward when others are being moved out. If you don't have one, consider getting one. Here's how to go about getting a mentor, and what to look for:

1. Look for a living Rosetta Stone - If you're new, newly promoted, a lot of what's said and done may not make a great deal of sense. And, while you're trying to understand what's important and what's just "noise", you aren't moving ahead. You want someone who knows how to translate what's going on and help you understand the next steps required. 2. Choose experience over nice - Your mentor should have a lot of experience within the organization, the company, the field, or the community. Your needs will vary but, like my client's mentor above, you really benefit if you choose someone who knows the history of things and what is "appropriate" for your actions and programs. Many newbies come in and start doing things that others have seen fail in the past. Learning on the job can take longer than is available. 3. Like any important relationship, you want committment - When you have someone who's genuinely committed to being your mentor, they will give you time and want to see you succeed. (You don't want someone who may have some reason to compete with you at any stage.) A solid mentor will praise you for good stuff. In many cases praise of any nature is doled out like Scrooge's Christmas Pudding so having a mentor reinforcing your successes is particularly replenishing. In the same vein a good mentor will tell you when you've screwed up. We learn from our screw-ups but in many of today's passive/aggressive organizations, we never hear honest feedback about them and often repeat the problem as a result. 4. Male or female? Some people feel more comfortable with one gender or the other, but I haven't seen greater success if the parties are the same gender or the opposite one. I still hear from female clients that some of the senior women in their organization exhibit an attitude kind of like, “Listen I busted by back to get here and nobody helped me; so it's up to you to make it on your own too." This counterproductive attitude is unfortunate; especially when women fill less than 10% of our top leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies. Gender balance has been proven to improve the bottom line - we need more women in the big roles. 5. Recognize boundaries - In certain relationships, especially in the case of formal mentoring programs sponsored by the employer company, there may be times when you cannot share information with the other person. For example: promotions or terminations that could impact the "partner" in the relationship. But some things can't be shared without breaching confidences and it's important to know what's what.

Finally, it's important to note that even CEO's can use mentors, it's not for just those in the early stages of their careers. Regardless of what level one is at, having a mentor can be one of the best ways to ensure you are on the right path and making the right choices. Go for it.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

8 comments
jsargent
jsargent

You need to choose a mentor who is two steps higher up the corporate ladder than you. This way the mentor will be more affective and will not feel threatened. He will also feel that since he helped your career more you will be more helpful to him. Beware of confusing "experienced" with "difficult". Do not choose a difficult mentor under any cercumstances.

racarr
racarr

It's great to find the right mentor. But if you don't know where to look, particularly if you don't have access to someone in your workplace, we've posted more than a dozen suggestions at http://www.mentors.ca/findamentor.html

sidekick
sidekick

Just curious what I would do if I wanted to find a mentor but there was no one really qualified in my company.

dkearney
dkearney

I was extremely fortunate at a previous employer to have not only one, but at least 2 mentors...someone that took an interest in me personally and professionally. It was a wonderful experience. To have a mentor does not only mean someone that can show you the ropes and/or praise and constructively criticize you to help make you a better well-round individual. There is a cross-to-bear with being a mentee as well. For a mentor to give their time & energy and insight to their experience (albeit willingly), you as a mentee need to dedicate yourself to working harder and invest in taking their recommendations, counsel, and advice completely (much like Mr. Miyagi & Daniel-Son in the Karate Kid). My mentor/mentee relationships did greatly extend my work day and perhaps affected my relationships with others out of jealousy, but there was no question to anyone that I would do anything for the company I worked or the mentors that so graciously shared of themselves to help me grow. When a mentor gives of themselves, you must also be willing to give back or pay-it-forward. This type of relationship is not one-way. A mentor/mentee relationship can't be forced. A complete 2-way trust must be built. And, not everyone is cut-out to be a mentor or mentee. Unfortunately, I am still seeking a mentor/mentee relationship at my new employer...someone to take an interest in me, but I can't just expect it to happen overnight...or even happen here. Those that have had a true mentor, consider yourself to have been blessed. To those that haven't had this type of relationship, be willing to embrace whatever a potential mentor has to offer...their time, energy, resources, and feedback (both good and bad). Wax-On/Wax-Off.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Many years ago I had a mentor and the management went out of their way to seperate us. They felt that it was giving me an unfair advange over the other employees when he would step in and protect me from unfair attacks by the jealous ones. After seperation they tried everything they could to place me in a position to fail but it didn't happen. Be aware that others may see this and try all the harder to make you look bad.

sidekick
sidekick

That's what I was thinking. Any suggestions or advice on how to go about doing that or where to look?