You don’t have to be alone in making career decisions. No matter what you do for a living, there’s one investment on which you can count to improve your career. Plus, it won’t cost you any money.
Huh? Yes, you can get a mentor.
Despite being a complimentary basis, a strong mentor will pay big dividends – whether you’re just starting your career, have years of experience, trying to recharge your career prospects, or have entrepreneurial dreams or to run a business.
Not to be ostentatious, but what you’re about to read is an attitude of gratitude and reflections about experiences from outstanding mentors.
Beloved mentors gave me a competitive edge in numerous situations: When I was fresh out of college launching a journalism career, while reinventing myself to change careers, whilst working in management, and when I launched a consulting practice.
As a young news director at different at different radio-TV stations in southern California, legendary broadcaster Del Sharbutt gave me valuable career insights and job referrals, and another seasoned veteran gave me a critique after every newscast. (As a result, the stations enjoyed high ratings that have never been equaled.)
A nationally known scholar taught me skills for good business relationships.
A sales guru, who turned around two Fortune 500 companies, provided insights for discipline, management and for spotting the right opportunities.
A publishing CEO explained his Peter Drucker-like art of launching and running a successful consulting practice.
How to get a mentor
You’ll find a great mentor in the unlikeliest of places, if you’re always moving forward doing the right things for professional growth, and if you’re not afraid to ask for advice.
Only pick one mentor at a time to avoid getting confused. Besides, the best mentors will be offended if you seek the same advice from others. They value their time and energy.
Here’s a secret: All things being equal and if they’re qualified, the right persons will be honored to be asked. They’re aware that mentoring someone helps them more than you. They won’t be able to keep their expertise if they don’t give it away.
Make sure it’s the right person – look for relevance
The person should be successful with all the skills you seek for yourself – outside your circle of friends and family. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to know knowledgeable and skilled associates who can serve as a friendly devil’s advocate.
However, typically, family and friends won’t have a firm grasp of your situation, especially if they’re not entrepreneurs and you have a startup dream.
Wisdom is vital.
Just as importantly, mindset is important. You’ll want someone who is positive, constructive and supportive in giving you objective information. You won’t profit from either a yes-person or someone who is negative.
Get an agreement
You’re not paying for a consultant so expect an informal arrangement. But you should understand the person’s preferences and ground rules.
Learn the best time, method and location to chat– whether it’s on the phone or over coffee.
Make it a great relationship
Be considerate and don’t take the relationship for granted.
As an old Irish expression goes, “Keep it civil but strange.” In other words, be friendly but respectful and appreciative of the person’s time and energy.
Be prepared with questions for every conversation. Take notes. Demonstrate your desire to capitalize on the person’s expertise. Show that the guidance is meaningful to you.
Make the person’s day by reporting on your footwork, and say thank you.
Do your own footwork. Don’t think of asking for any help other than mentoring.
Keep the right focus on principles. For sustainability, learn the general concepts behind every piece of advice. If it’s appropriate, ask to shadow them.
Candidly, early in my career, I made my share of mistakes – mostly from aggressive tendencies. Fortunately, I learned the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness. Eager to learn, I was fortunate to find terrific mentors, who patiently imparted their wisdom.
After I started enjoying success from their guidance, I gave each of them my thoughtful appreciation typically saying: “I don’t know how to repay you. If I had to cut you a check, it would be for at least $100,000.”
Almost verbatim to their credit, each had the same gracious reaction: “You’re welcome. When possible, pass it on.”
If you do these things, you’ll be full of gratitude and will pass it on when you’re asked to be a mentor.
From the Coach’s Corner, here’s a potpourri of career articles:
- Need a Career Change? 10 Steps for a Career Makeover
- 18 Tips for Productive Behavior to Win in Office Politics
- Strategies to Succeed as a New Manager – a Checklist
- 7 Tips for a Young Professional to Become a CEO
Striving in a career without a good mentor is like nailing jello to a tree.