You may think it odd as an executive coach to be writing about mentoring, but it comes up quite a bit with my executive clients, particularly women, who wonder what (or who) is the RIGHT kind of mentor to get to the next level or achieve career ambitions.
Mentorship does not have to be a formal, one-to-one relationship established through a company-wide mentorship program.
You can have many, many mentors…both formal and informal, and some may not be a longer relationship than a 15 minute call or a chat over coffee one day. Think about mentoring in nuggets, versus large commitments, and it may be easier to get yourself sufficiently mentored.
My colleague, Patty Azzarello, has written a fabulous blog about the 5 mentors everyone should have. She sums it up fabulously, so I will simply quote her here:
Successful people get the most help
In my experience, mentors have a bigger impact on your success than virtually anything you can do outside of your own efforts.
Building your career without mentors is like climbing Mt. Everest without a guide and a Sherpa. Sure, you can attempt it — but why would you?
Get the advantage
If you rely on your personal talents and energy alone, you are at an extreme disadvantage to those that get help — both in terms of getting your current job done well, and also in getting ready for, and getting access to your desired job.
Important types of mentors
4. Air Cover
Where do you get your ideas?
Who challenges your thinking in a positive way? Big imagination is required to do your job in a stand-out way. What fuels your imagination?
To fuel your imagination, look for mentors who:Are 2-3 phases ahead of you in the maturity of how your job function is done. This can be in a bigger company or a more established business or product line.
Work at a much bigger scope or geography than you. This type of mentor is critical to make sure you are scaling your skills and approach as your business scales, vs. doing things the same way when a new approach is necessary, or making only incremental improvements.
Do your job in different industries. For example, a Ford employee actually got the initial idea for the assembly line by visiting a butchery. Seeing how other industries solve similar problems, can help you see completely different ways of doing things which will be innovations in your world.
It’s easy to get so tied up in what you are doing, that you can lose sight of the reality of changing attitudes, business conditions, or market landscape.
So look for mentors who are:
10-15 years older and way ahead of you career-wise. Having a mentor who has traveled your road already, can help you see the opportunities you are not seeing, navigate land mines, work through unspoken rules, and point out opportunities to change the game that you might not see on your own.
In their 20′s and are a master at social networking. If you are over 40, you need keep up with how the world is communicating. Make sure you know all the ways to share information and engage your customers and your network.
Talented business people in other functions. This is important because you get ideas not only for general leadership techniques, but “man on the street” insights about how people in other areas view what makes your function successful.
Look for mentors who are In the job you aspire to. This is critical — you get an advocate on “the inside”. They can help you really learn what that job is about, and expose you to the real requirements, so you can be more prepared when you go for it.
A key point: Your mentor also gets you access to jobs like theirs when they come up, because being in that role, they get asked who to consider – and as your mentor they recommend you!
You have less ability to execute if you do not have a strong network. Sure, you need to be building your personal network directly, but mentors can expand your network exponentially; not just in terms of size but also level and usefulness. Your mentors will often have a bigger, higher-level, and very different network than you.
4. Air Cover
If you are at a big company and you want to grow your career there, you need a mentor in your company who is at your boss’s level or higher. You need someone on your team in the room when you are not there to defend your honor. (At a big company there are lots of things that can happen to you based on discussions in rooms that you are not in.)
A mentor, by definition cares about you and your success, and having someone higher up in the organization who can advocate on your behalf is critical.
They can also help you learn (and practice) what it means to socialize and “fit in” at that level, which can be as important as skills and experience when a candidate is chosen.
Finally, you can’t have too many smart people in your life. Spending time with people you learn from is a big part of creating success.
Whenever you find someone you can learn from, create a reason to spend time with them. Learn what they think.
I’ve excerpted from Patty’s blog here, but if you want more, please go read her full post at her site.