Mentors: The Key to Your Success

  • “I work hard, I really know my stuff. Why do I need a mentor?”
    First, mentors can give you the big picture. Understanding performance expectations can be tricky—particularly when there are subtle expectations for employees in all organizations.

    Mentors can also help you find a suitable style by cluing you into the “rules of the game”—commonly known as office politics. Navigating the political landscape of an organization can take years to master on your own, and avoidable mistakes can be costly.

    Also, keep in mind that even as a top performer, getting challenging assignments can be tough. Mentors can open doors for you by introducing you into their networks and recommending you for high-visibility assignments and promotions.

  • Who should you look for?
    Be strategic. Figure out what kind of coaching and advice you need, then look for people who can give it to you. Remember that it’s nearly impossible to find everything you want in one person. Instead, become the mentee of several talented people.

    So, how do you find a mentor? You can start by following Catalyst’s “Finding a Mentor Action List.”

    • Make a connection, but start small. Don’t scare off a potential mentor by calling and asking, “Would you like to mentor me?” Try e-mailing or calling a potential mentor to discuss a project she has worked on or to ask a question within her area of expertise. Remember, get them vested without scaring them off.
    • Volunteer to help. Take the opportunity to strut your stuff in front of a potential mentor. Offer to help on a project or volunteer in a charity in which your mentor is involved.
    • Find out whether your company has a formal mentoring program. One of the best places to find a mentor is in your own organization. Formal mentoring relationships offer opportunities to focus on specific goals.
    • Look outside your company. If your company does not have a formal mentoring program, join a mentoring organization, or check out your industry association or alumni group. They often provide coaching on key topics like presentation skills, salary negotiation, and how to run an effective meeting.

Once you’ve found key people and begun developing the right relationships, keep the following tips for being a good mentee in mind:

    • Exceed performance expectations.
    • Demonstrate your openness to coaching and feedback.
    • Listen carefully to your mentor’s advice and incorporate those insights that make sense for your career.
    • Ask a lot of questions.
    • Inform your mentor of significant career accomplishments and failures.
    • Share with your mentor the advice that made the most difference for you and why.
    • Give back to your mentor—be loyal; return favors.
    • Finally, as you progress in your career, don’t forget to reach back. Become a mentor yourself.
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