Mentorship is a word that is all too commonly thrown around in the business world. There’s no doubt that a great mentor can help accelerate your career and help you achieve your business or personal development goals. But, the word “mentor” has become watered-down, and many mentorships fail to reach their full potential – for both the mentee and the mentor – or worse, they are not the right fit to begin with.
Like many young, ambitious guys and gals hired on by Fortune 500 companies right out of college, I started my career with a handful of pre-assigned mentors. We were paired with individuals that had been successful within the organization, but I myself had little understanding what really made up an effective mentor-mentee relationship. In the beginning, a meeting with one of my mentors basically consisted of me asking questions like “What does a typical day look like in your current job?” or “What are the key performance metrics of your role?” In retrospect, these weren’t terrible questions coming from someone that had no idea what he was doing in that meeting (or in my career for that matter), but many of these early mentor relationships lacked the goals and a specified time frame to make them truly effective. These meetings felt more like interviews, not discussions with developmental objectives in mind that were going to take me from point A to point B in my career.
Identifying a mentor does not have to be a complicated process, but it does require some clarity on your own career goals, and in turn, what you would like to achieve from the mentor relationship you are seeking. Below are the 2 separate criteria I use for selecting my mentors. They aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but the reality is, you really only need to look for 1 of 2 things when perusing your network (or, people you’d like to add to your network) for a great mentor:
1.) Pick a mentor you want to be like.
Hopefully this one isn’t new to you, but if it is, this will likely revolutionize the way you go about building mentor relationships, and quite likely, accelerate your development as you work through your career. If there is someone who’s current position – or more importantly, their career path – is one you’d want to emulate in some fashion, find a way to build a mentor relationship with this person NOW! Whether he or she is 5, 10, or 20 years ahead of you in their career, they didn’t just get there overnight, and they can help coach you on the right steps to take in your immediate or next role.
To put this into the perspective of my own story, I’m an account manager who often finds himself blurring the lines between sales, business development, and marketing. Reviewing analytics for targeting the market with the highest growth potential, honing my company’s branding for a new marketspace, developing the right content and distributing it in the right context…I love these activities as much as I love meeting and collaborating with customers! As a result, I’ve incorporated many of these responsibilities into my current role that – while on the surface serve more of a marketing function – have been vital to growing my day-to-day book of business as a salesperson.
Why do I do take on these additional task? Because aside from the ROI that they bring to my sales role, at the end of the day, it’s because I want to be a business and marketing leader. By no means did I decide which tasks to focus on by myself. I identified numerous marketing leaders inside and outside of my company that I know and respect, and tapped into their experiences to determine what skills would be important if I eventually wanted to be in a role like theirs. The people you want to be like should always be your top targets for mentors. Identify them, come up with a developmental objective as a starting point for a mentor relationship, and start reaching out!
2.) Pick a mentor with a particular skill set that you want to develop.
This is really just one step removed from selection criteria 1.), but if I’m being honest, the majority of my mentor relationships have fallen into this category. Maybe the person sitting down the hallway from you isn’t in the same spot you want to be 10 to 20 years down-the-line, but that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have something you really want to learn from them.
I’ve been fortunate enough during my career to sit in the same office as some extremely talented people, each with their own unique strengths. When I wanted to learn how to become a better solutions salesperson and tactfully challenge my customers’ way of thinking…I had a guy for that. When I wanted to up my business acumen and have an intelligent discussion with a customer about their financial statements…BOOM! I had a guy for that too! The mentoring periods associated with this type of mentor relationship will usually be shorter, but can be very effective when you’re looking to add some new skills to your toolbox over a short period of time.
A great mentor can undoubtedly be one of the best catalysts for taking your career to the next level. 6 years later, my mentor relationships have helped me develop skills I wouldn’t have been able to build on my own. While my approach to selecting my mentors has become more specific and more meaningful, I am happy to say that I’ve maintained many of those relationships, even from the early parts of my career, and now have a wider personal "board of directors” to bounce ideas off of or approach with my latest career ambitions. These 2 simple criteria have been the basis of my most successful mentor relationships. What have been your most valuable mentor relationship, and what criteria did you use to decide who to reach out to as a mentor?