Finding Your Mentor(s)

The term “mentor” is a bit overworked these days, don’t you think? Webster’s Dictionary defines a mentor as a trusted counselor or guide, but the roles of today’s mentors include everything from a brief encounter to a formal relationship and everything in between. Some people think you can only experience the benefits of mentoring through a formal program. Others think a good friend can fill the role. There is some truth to both ways of thinking, but I suggest that there is new form of “mentoring” — a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach where you create your own personal “Board of Directors”.

In today’s workplace, it’s unrealistic to think that a single person can fill all the roles that may be expected of and needed from a mentor. You need someone to guide you in your professional career; teach you technical skills; be a sounding board; open up doors; break down barriers; help you with a specific work issue; and/or sometimes to just be a quiet listener. It is rare to find all those ingredients in one person. Given that, you need different people to fill each of those varied roles at different times. With a little bit of personal insight and reflection, you can identify which areas of your “resume” that you need to punch up and use this information to create your “Board of Directors” recruitment strategy.

How to get started?

I strongly suggest that polishing up your technical expertise be your first priority, so you should start by finding a solid technical expert to teach you a new skill or enhance an existing one. Next, quickly focus on a leader you admire and respect, and approach that person to request the opportunity to learn his/her secrets and how to apply them within your sphere of influence. At this point, you might also consider offering a skill of your own in return—a form of “reverse mentoring.” For example, if you are a GenXer or Millenial, comfortable with current and emerging technologies and social media, offer your skills to your “Board” member who may not have those skills. Finally, get to know someone who already occupies a particular professional role to which you aspire and add him/her to your “Board” by starting with an informational interview in which you ask him/her what made him/her successful. Before you know it, you will be on your way to having your own personal “Board” in your corner to help direct your career!


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