by: Steve Cadigan , CONTRIBUTOR – Forbes
No matter your level of seniority in your company or field, you’re inevitably going to encounter a challenging situation you’re unsure how to handle. This can be anything from a new job offer, to a company merger, to managing a tough employee. Instead of viewing these as stumbling blocks, they can be viewed as opportunities to look outside yourself and reach out to the people in your network you know you can count on for measured advice. In today’s fast-paced work environment, you’re not going to have the time or the resources to handle every challenge on your own. It’s important to have a well-curated network that you can count on for guidance when faced with difficult decisions – or in other words, a mentor.
Sometimes it’s helpful to look at mentorship in a different light.
Finding The Right Person
The most frequent mistake people make when looking for a mentor is that they try and find the perfect candidate: someone who maybe has your dream job or took the same path you did and can answer every question thoroughly and thoughtfully. While this scenario does sound great, you don’t need to choose a mentor along these guidelines, and you shouldn’t. It’s better to have multiple mentors as opposed to one. The value of diverse mentorship cannot be overstated: getting advice from those with different experiences than you will only make you a more well-rounded, successful professional.
The Personal Boardroom
Zella King produced a brilliant concept called the “Personal Boardroom,” which emphasizes the importance of developing real relationships with a small group of people in your network who can really help you succeed and thrive professionally. She breaks down the types of mentors you can and should have in your corner – everything from someone who is well connected and can introduce you to others, to someone who inspires you, to someone who challenges you. They’re all important people to have in your professional life. I have incorporated a lot of King’s ideas around mentorship into my own life and have urged others I have mentored to do the same.
Variety Is Key
Going off the idea of that you don’t have to find this perfect mentor, it’s important to remember to have someone in your corner who is different than you. Having someone with a different background or skillset can offer valuable insight and unique perspective. Personally, I meet with a group of fellow HR executives once a quarter to discuss various issues or problems the group is facing. As a group, we obviously have some similarities seeing as we all work in HR, but we work across industries, at small and large companies, private and public, and everyone at the table brings a unique view and perspective to help the group work through challenges. I regularly leave these meetings with a completely new perspective on a situation I was going through and more importantly a fresh mindset accompanied by some new confidence to get through the issue.
Making The Ask
Finding a mentor doesn’t have to be a big formal ask or commitment. It’s all about how you frame it. I would start by asking the person or people you’d like to be your mentors if they have time to talk through a question or issue because you’d like to get their advice. You may not even want to use the word “mentor” because that may connote a large commitment of time to your potential mentor. I would even go as far as to give them a high-level view of what you’d like to talk about so they can be prepared for the conversation – they’ll appreciate that you have put some thought into the conversation. Once the two of you meet, see how the conversation goes and see if you like the advice you’re receiving and if you feel comfortable with the relationship and rapport. If you do, ask the person if they mind if you touch base with them again and take the relationship from there. It should feel organic and beneficial for both parties.
There are obvious benefits to having a mentor and in my case, I have seen the value from both sides. I have been lucky enough to have some amazing mentors throughout my career who have helped me on so many topics ranging from how to negotiate a complex job offer to how to work with labor unions in Italy. On the other side of the coin, I love being a mentor and helping others. Every mentor-mentee relationship I have today is different as the personalities, issues and type of mentoring desired by my mentees varies greatly. Mentoring discussions are often my favorite conversations, and my greatest joy and satisfaction professionally, comes from helping people reach their own career nirvana. Ultimately, mentorship is a pivotal stepping stone to creating a strong network, which is vital to career success regardless of your background, level or industry. When contemplating the idea of mentorship, remember that sometimes it takes a village.