Identify leaders who you know have acted as mentors and sponsors for others in the past. Identify 3-4 people in your organization, or industry who are 2-3 steps ahead of where you are. They should be sitting in a place where you want to go and be someone you admire.
A good mentor is someone willing and able to invest in a mentor-mentee relationship and sometimes someone who has the ability to mentor will not have the inclination or time. Be aware of their role and stresses and responsibilities. While you shouldn't make assumptions about whether someone will do something like mentor you based on the appearance of how busy they are, it can help you set your expectations realistically.
I’m not saying your career journey is going to turn out the way you’ve planned; it’s likely it won’t. However, being able to articulate that vision to a potential mentor is an important factor in them assessing whether they want to invest in you.
A mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street. You need to be clear on your goals and ask for help on specific things. Don't treat your mentor as if they are a psychologist or someone who can predict your future with a crystal ball. If you aren't clear about what you want, it will be hard for anyone -- even a great mentor -- to help you. Sometimes you may not know exactly what short-term steps to take but that's ok. Having a sense of your long term career goal is all that you need.
Reach out to potential mentors. The more specific you are about why you want to meet, the greater the likelihood of landing the meeting. Reference something that they have done, or how they lead, that you admire and ask for a meeting to learn more.
For example, send an email with a subject line such as ‘Your Presentation to the IT Team Was Fantastic. 15 Minute Meeting to Share Your Tips?’ Get to the point in your email- who you are, why you want to meet and 1-2 times that work in your schedule. Thank them in advance for spending the time with you. You should absolutely consider reaching out to several people — there is no rule that you can or should only have one mentor at a time!
Have some great questions for them, really listen to what they are sharing and take notes about their answers. When it’s appropriate, give them a small window into what your career aspirations are. If you felt the love, ask if you can set up another meeting in the future. Then do it. When you meet again, share how you implemented one of their ideas.
Over time, one of these people may morph into a full-blown sponsor for you. You’ll up your odds of that happening if you’re making the person mentoring you look good, if you’re taking their advice and running with it and if you continue to rock your results.
On the flip side, if you’re in a position to build a mentoring network or be a mentor or sponsor, do it! Pick a few women you believe in, sit them down and explain what mentoring and sponsorship relationships looks like. Ask for their goals in writing and for them to articulate their vision for their career. Describe your own expectations for being a mentor as well. Keep in mind that you will need to prepare, have strong communication skills, and be ready and willing to impart your knowledge and regard your mentee with objectivity and fairness. If you think she’s on the right track, start advocating for her. Take some calculated risks, draft for her and watch her thrive. While it may not be your primary motivation for mentoring, serving as a mentor can help you progress your own career in addition to your mentee's.