Question any leader or executive about their success and eventually they’ll tell you that their mentor played a big role. Today, however, there is no Jedi-Master Yoda, wise and powerful, taking on people and unlocking the paths to business immortality. The onus is now yours to find numerous mentors, build the relationships, learn from them, weave the skills together, and create your successful identity. No single master, but a collage of mentors.
Finding your mentors
You’ll normally rub shoulders with skills mentors, people willing to help and mentor, during your first week at a company. It’s important from the outset to find the more capable people. Relational mentors, in contrast, are more difficult to locate. But you should watch interactions both within and outside your discipline, looking for potential mentors. Relational experts tend to be excellent facilitators, know how to question without making people defensive, have a lot of language at their fingertips, can read people well, create a motivational atmosphere and readily engage in team problem solving. As you become a good “noticer of mentors” you’ll have a leg up on your competition.
Locating career and strategic mentors is a much more difficult game. Normally employees and managers don’t need them until they’ve been in the workforce more than five to eight years. If you spot someone before you have need of that expertise, take advantage of the situation. Get to know them, touch base with them and make them a part of your future mentor network. The reality is that unless you’re dealing with a consultant specializing in the field, few have well-rounded information in careers and the future. But if you locate some specialization in either of these fields, you can piece together all the information and provide yourself with a strong knowledge base.
Sometimes you can locate a strategic mentor in highly relevant jobs. For example, when I consulted for 3M, I worked with a manager who was responsible for learning the defense business so 3M could break into that market. He was very knowledgeable about government and military policy, knew the changes currently going on in the field and had a great deal of insight into what was liable to be taking place that could affect people and organizations over the next three to ten years. I was able to apply some of his strategic information to my consulting business.
In sum, make mentor development part of your professional fuel. These are the people who can give you the confidence to rise above your doubts and fears and make you feel secure enough to take risks. They are often exceptionally capable at supporting your attempts to set and achieve goals for yourself. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, they present opportunities and highlight challenges you wouldn’t have on your radar. Finding and using mentors is necessary for both survival and success. Sure, it’s to your personal advantage, but a more capable and knowledgeable employee is also of great value to any organization.
How will you find and gain access to great mentors in this environment? That’s a blog still to come.
Miss the first sections of this series? Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here.
Dan Erwin, PhD, is a specialist in performance improvement. Over more than 25 years he has coached nearly 500 officers, executives, and managers from top American corporations by means of his very original, cutting-edge development program. Shockingly, you can't Google his name prior to 2008 — due to the demands of his clients. He blogs at danerwin.typepad.com, and tweets at twitter.com/danerwin.
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