Building a relationship with a mentor can often feel forced – i.e. like an inorganic networking relationship set up by your manager or organization, based only on your career path or other limited criteria. That said, mentoring is not an exact science, and I have always found that the best way to form long-lasting mentor relationships is by reaching out to various cross-functional colleagues with whom I have connected personally – whether on a project, during a face-to-face interaction, or whom I simply found inspiring during a presentation. Thus, some of my favorite mentors are the most spirited individuals in my organization, whom I respect because of their ability to speak up and make a difference. And through my own ability to verbalize opinions and influence them on a project or decision, we have formed long-lasting relationships that have helped shape who I want to be as a leader.
Finding the Right “Species” of Mentor
So, what are the first steps for you to find a mentor? Throughout the workday, you inevitably interact with various stakeholders. If you have a meaningful interaction with a senior leader or colleague who demonstrates an interest in you by providing feedback, supporting your success, or celebrating your efforts, then you should take the opportunity to leverage this into an organic mentoring relationship. This doesn’t necessarily need to be someone who is a direct report or a person for whom you could potentially work, but it should be someone who can provide the guidance or support to help you achieve your career vision.
In fact, here’s the best way to think about mentoring: by reaching out and finding ways to connect with people outside your specific areas of responsibility, you are taking control and steering your own career. You will also find that connecting with role models in other functions and disciplines may provide the greatest benefit, as this allows these individuals to provide unbiased opinions — and for you to speak candidly about issues affecting your career.
A common mistake many make, however, is thinking that all mentors need to be senior leaders or executives in their organization; while having a mentor in a senior leadership role is important, you should cultivate mentor relationships at various levels so that you can address the range of topics on your mind. For example, peer mentors are extremely valuable to help manage new responsibilities and can be a sounding-board when you don’t feel comfortable talking to your manager or team. I often keep in touch with colleagues from previous roles. It’s a great way to keep a friendship going, and the trust is already there for them to provide feedback that you can respect, and on which you can rely.
You should also have mentors from completely different, outside organizations. This can be achieved by maintaining relationships with colleagues who have moved on; with professors or classmates in school; or through professional networks that relate to your job function. The upshot is that it can be important to put yourself in new, unfamiliar situations to open doors for new opportunities.
Having Your Own “Board of Directors” for Career Guidance
Need more mentoring know-how? Your mentors should be constantly evolving, so it’s a good idea to have a “Board of Directors” — that is, an eclectic group of individuals to whom you can go for different situations. So, for instance, when you are applying for a new position, you can vet the opportunity with a few (varied) stakeholders to make sure you are making a well-thought out, prudent decision for you and your career. These individuals can also be great advocates for you in the midst of talent discussions, hiring decisions, or just to help broaden your network to other parts of the organization.
Lastly, remember that successful mentoring relationships are a two-way street! The mentor and the mentee should learn from each other and be able to speak openly about their experiences. There does not need to be structure for how often you meet, but don’t just wait to talk until there is a problem or you need something from the individual. Instead, do make sure you create and adhere to structured time for your development.
So the next time someone mentions mentoring, don’t panic! You have the opportunity to organically develop rich, lasting relationships with people who can become your advocates and counselors, helping you, on a long-term basis, make the right decisions for your career.
This article was originally published on SharpHeels.
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