A mentor is a valuable career asset and can be a critical element to career success. The wealth of experience a mentor can provide is helpful to all levels of professionals. However, what if you have found the perfect person to mentor you and they don’t want to be a mentor? Or perhaps they are already a mentor to someone else and currently aren’t available to mentor you? How can you tap into their knowledge and experience?
Be observant. Watching how the person handles themselves at work is a great way to learn from them, even if they aren’t an official mentor. Discreetly take note of how they conduct meetings, how they accomplish their work tasks, and how they communicate with others. Try to uncover details about why they may handle situations in a certain way by being observant.
Leverage informal conversation. When you have a chance to speak to the person informally, perhaps during a break or after a meeting, be prepared to ask meaningful questions. Ask yourself what made you want to have this person as a mentor. Do they have specific qualities that you want to cultivate, are they in the position you would like to be, or something else? Now choose a few questions that you can have in the back of your mind when the situation presents itself. You will want to choose questions that won’t catch the person off guard or be too difficult to answer in an informal setting. For example: I really admire your clear communication. That is something I am working on. How do you determine the best way to communicate with your employees? Or, I enjoyed your presentation in today’s meeting. What is your number one tip for giving a presentation?
Imitate. Take what you learn by observing and from talking to the person and determine how you can put that into practice in your current job and situation. While you don’t want to lose your own sense of identity, think about how you can make those ideas your own. For example, you don’t need to copy exactly what the person says. Instead, focus on how the person speaks during a meeting. Then, when you are discussing ideas with your team or employees, implement the how instead of the what.
Talk to others. You can also learn about the person by talking to others about them. Others may have a different idea or angle about what the person does that makes them successful in certain areas. You might bring up the person with someone who knows them or with your team and say something like, “I really admire their work ethic. What do you think has helped them to reach their career goals?” You may learn something that they have shared with another colleague or some other factor that you hadn’t thought about.