Finding Your Mentor

Posted by Graniterock on Mar 18, 2015

by Andy Winzelberg, Management Consultant

After working on the crew for a number of years, John accepted the challenge of becoming a supervisor. The problem was he didn’t really know what was expected of him now that he was “management”. How was he going to relate to friends he had worked with for years? What should he do when he needed to give them critical feedback or ask them to do something they didn’t want to do? Lucky for John, years ago he had formed a good relationship with Phil, a longtime manager who looked in on him from time to time. Phil met with John a few times and gave him the advice he needed to successfully transition from lead to supervisor. That was fifteen years ago. Since then, John has helped a number of new supervisors learn the ropes and develop their skills.

Most of us can think of a mentor who has made a difference in our lives. It might have been a teacher, coach or family friend who listened to us and gave us advice at just the right time. The mentor may have helped us for a short period of time or been helpful over decades. Unfortunately, such a person can be harder to find once we enter the workforce. Yet business leaders agree that mentors can play a critical role in helping people succeed in their work careers. It can be the difference between an employee’s success and failure at work. Equally important, mentors play an important role in training the next generation of managers and leaders.

Before asking someone for their help, you should think about what you want from the mentoring relationship. Think about qualities you liked in past mentors – what did they do that was helpful and how did they do it? A good mentor should be someone you trust and respect and who does well in the areas in which you want to develop. This person should have high standards, be passionate about his or her work, and above all be a good communicator.

To get started in finding a mentor, write down a list of candidates. Ask yourself if there has been someone who has shown some interest in you and your career or been particularly helpful to you in the past. Consider people who work in different branches or departments. The best mentor typically is not your own manager. Sometimes mentors are all around us, gently giving advice and guidance without making the relationship formal. You might also ask coworkers for their recommendations.

Once you have narrowed your list, you must approach the potential mentor. For many of us this may feel awkward, because we don’t know how to approach the topic or start the conversation. I find it best to just be direct. Ask if you can meet with your candidate for a few minutes to get some advice. Assess the person’s openness to this meeting and see how he or she responds to your questions. If you believe there is a good fit, ask if he or she would consider being your mentor and explain what you hope to get from the relationship.

When you have found your mentor, work together to set expectations such as the kinds of advice you want and the frequency in which you both want to meet. Keep your mentor posted on your progress and show your appreciation. Many managers what to be mentors, but simply aren’t asked, so if the first candidate doesn’t work out, don’t give up. Go back to your list and ask another candidate. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

Reprinted from Rock Talk, December 2005

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