Are you interested in career advancement? General resources are great, but they can’t replace the effect of expert human feedback and coaching. One of the best ways to gain this resource is by finding a mentor. It can be a significant factor to improving diversity in leadership. According to a 2019 study from Leanin.org, 1 in 4 women think their gender has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead. Think of the people you know in your industry. Are there any whose brain you would like to pick? That could be a potential mentor. But, would they be a good mentor? Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when looking for a mentor.
What do I want to gain from a mentorship?
This helps you determine what sort of person will make the best mentor for you. There’s no written rule that states you can only have one mentor. If you want to improve your public speaking, that mentor will be different from the person you want for expertise in a specific technical skill. You can have a full host of mentors depending on your goals.
If you do find a mentor within your organization, don’t leverage their insights against your direct superior. Take care to avoid making your boss feel threatened by your relationship with someone higher up in your organization. Do your best to curtail any perceived threat by your direct superior through transparency and open communication. Make sure your superior clearly understands your intent and goals when it comes to skip-level mentorship.
Does the person I want as a mentor have a mentor or mentee?
If yes, this is a good sign. It shows the person is already familiar with the mentorship tradition and they understand its value. However, as the mentee, it is still your responsibility to guide the relationship toward the goals you want to achieve. You can trust they are more likely to provide you quality of mentorship. A person may have all the qualities you’re seeking in a mentor, but much of that can be wasted if they don’t understand how to mentor. While you shouldn’t discount a person without a history of mentorship, you may need to help them become a better mentor for you.
Is this person within 10 years of my current position level?
This person may be removed from your current position, but as someone a few steps ahead of your current level, they can provide a new perspective on the issues you’re facing. They provide insight and context to problems to which you may be totally unaware.
People with 20-30 years more experience are a great fount of knowledge. However, their career history can be far removed from your current position. For some, it can be difficult to remember the struggles of that position, not to mention how much of the duties and tools have changed since that time. Thanks to the quick march of technology many positions are vastly different than they were even ten years ago.
However, your selection of a mentor should be primarily driven by what you seek to get from the engagement. If one of the points you intend to work on is the navigation of organizational politics. Someone with a higher title and many years of experience in that realm can make a far superior mentor towards that end. It’s about finding the right mentor for your goals.
Are they known and respected in their line of work?
You should always look for someone who is a good role model and has a good attitude. In addition, look for a mentor with a good reputation in your industry. They have influence and their words carry weight in the industry. As your mentor, that person can grant you beneficial access to their professional network.
In the best cases, a mentor may become your sponsor, a person who advocates for your success in public and private.
Does this person exhibit drive, curiosity, and a desire to learn?
These individuals love to learn and share their knowledge. They often take to mentorship like a duck takes to water. They are not just willing, but enthusiastic when it comes to sharing their skills, knowledge, and experience. Be wary of “empty suits,” people with the impressive office and title, but whose professional growth has stalled. Often they are happy to provide you information that is unfortunately of limited usefulness to you. Look at how the person acts. Are they constantly working to improve themselves? That’s a good sign. What about the people around them, do they go out of their way to share what they’ve learned? The way a person treats others will tell you much about their character.
Does this person appreciate the people around them?
A good mentor values people, their effort and their opinions. They work well in a team setting. They empower those around them and are generous when it comes to sharing their success. This sort of person will be eager to invest in you and your success. They genuinely want to share in your success. They are not looking for an excuse to listen to themselves speak.
This person should also exhibit patience. They understand people have different strengths and weaknesses. They don’t get upset when a mentee finds challenge with an issue that feels simple to them.
Can this person expand my knowledge base?
Look for someone who can expand your business or industry comprehension. Observe opportunities to learn top level information about finance, marketing, or operations to help make you a more well-rounded career person.
Do they possess strengths that match my weaknesses?
Gaining a mentor with strengths in an area you struggle can help you offset your natural weaknesses. Do you struggle with data and details? Look for someone who is strong in that area. If you have difficulty leading others, look to someone with great leadership skills.
Will this person keep it real with me?
A mentor shouldn’t be someone who gives your encouragement and tells you you’re doing a great job no matter what. A mentor should congratulate you on successes, but you need a person who will give you honest, respectful, and constructive criticism. A good mentor identifies where you struggle and need development, without verbally mistreating you or tearing you down.
They will encourage you to get uncomfortable and experience growing pains. Their advice will often place you outside your comfort zone and give you a chance to adapt and grow in ways you wouldn’t push yourself.
A good mentor will also help set healthy boundaries for your relationship. They understand the nature of mentor/mentee relationship and will keep you honest in enforcing those boundaries.
Do they have good communication skills?
Even the best advice is meaningless if it’s lost in translation. In addition to presenting their thoughts effectively, a mentor should be a great listener. A good mentor is an engaged, active listener and often spends more time listening and asking questions than giving direct, step-by-step advice based on what they would do. In the best cases, a mentor helps you find YOUR solution to a challenge rather than giving you their solution idea.
You should avoid a mentor with opposing views on management and leadership. Through mentorship you’re seeking a new perspective, not necessarily new values. If your mentor’s values are too different from your own you may unconsciously close yourself off to their words, even if it’s advice you would benefit from and really need to hear.
Even Great Mentorships Come to an End
Asking yourself these 10 questions when seeking a mentor will help you find the right mentor, or mentors, to achieve your career goals. In addition to gaining a mentor it’s important to remember mentorships end. After a time you, will achieve your goal or feel you’ve learned everything you can from a mentor. Sometimes your relationship will grow into a genuine friendship. If not, show your appreciation for your mentor, end your collaboration, and move forward.
Looking for more career advancement resources?
A good mentor can only do so much. If you’re looking for additional resources take a look at our Emerging Leaders Program. Are you preparing for a more senior executive position? Consider EWF International’s Catalyst Program.