Research shows that one of the most significant factors in getting ahead in the workplace is having a mentor, someone who is willing to spend time on you and your career. Bonus points if the mentor is a powerful and influential individual within your company or industry.
In my research interviewing many successful leaders in the financial services industry I heard the following, and repost these quotes from an earlier blog post because of their significance:
“Luckily I have a boss who is now really invested in my future and sees a lot going for me and I would say I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the ones who is going to be put in a good position in certain roles and will continue developing.”
“I would say that [my mentor] is the number one reason for helping me get ahead.”
But how do you get one of these mentors?
I had the pleasure, recently, of serving as a host at a roundtable discussion for young leaders looking to advance their careers. I had a wonderful time and met some incredibly intelligent and motivated young leaders. The question came up, as expected, “How do I find and attract a mentor?” I offered, as a starting point, the following:
The most effective mentorships happen organically; they are not assigned by HR
In my own life, I cannot tell you a single success story of a mentoring relationship that worked well when it was assigned by HR (or some other group). I am sure there are situations where it has worked for others, but my guess is that they are the exception rather than the rule.
I do, however, have story after story I could share where a successful mentorship developed because of a personal relationship I worked to develop. These mentors have helped me understand the bigger picture when the world felt very small and mean. They gave me feedback when I was uncertain of my next step. They have coached me and guided me, and I will never be able to express the gratitude I have felt for their willingness to invest in me.
I heard the same from the leaders I interviewed. When they actively sought out and cultivated their mentoring relationships, it reaped a significantly richer, deeper, and more satisfying result for them personally and professionally. In our discussion at the roundtable, the young leaders agreed that this was true.
What this means for those of you looking for a mentor is that you have to go out and find one yourself. Do not sit back and wait for HR to develop a mentorship program. Here are some thoughts on how to do this:
- Recognize that the vast majority of leaders are open and happy to meet with you, you just have to ask for 10 minutes of their time;
- Pay attention in meetings, presentations, anywhere you have exposure to leadership in your company. Look for someone you wish to emulate, or has a quality you admire.
- Reach out to this person. Ask a question, request feedback, share an observation. Anything to start the conversation. Use email to show respect for the individual’s time.
- Follow-up*. This relationship is on you to cultivate. Provide an update, ask another question, make a new suggestion. Just keep the conversation going.
Some examples for #3, as this is certainly the hardest part:
“I heard you mention X the other day in a meeting. I am particularly interested in X. I wonder if you would have 10 minutes to discuss this further with me?”
“I was particularly taken with how you presented Y in yesterday’s meeting. I am giving a talk in the near future on a related topic, and I wonder if you would be willing to give me some feedback on my presentation?”
“I am currently working on building my team, and I noted that your team works very well together. I wonder if you would have 10 minutes to give me some tips and pointers on how best to build my team?”
These are just a few ideas. Hopefully they help you to get started. Now, go get yourself a mentor!
*Just a note that some leaders are just going to be too busy to meet with you or even respond to an email. Be cognizant of this and don’t become a pest. If you don’t hear back from one person, move on to someone else.
Keep it positive and smile! Happy Monday!