I’ve had informal mentors who coached me through my new venture launch “labor pains.”
My mentors have always been accessible to me on short notice, and have shared their knowledge and creativity with me — generously. They are the first people I turn to when I face business ups and downs, am forced to make difficult tradeoffs to ensure company survival, or need strategic perspective.
Driven by my personal belief in the power of mentoring and input from our customers, my company introduced a mentorship program in 2012. The intent of the program is to make it easy for our community members to find mentors, to foster networking within our community and to differentiate our offering in the career resource space. We are trying to grow member adoption of the program, but surprisingly enough, many members seem reluctant to give it a spin.
Here is what I think. I think that people often don’t see how they can benefit from working with a mentor – they don’t think they need help…even when they are racing flat out in full job search mode…or are struggling to climb the ladder at their current job, and so they make excuses. They’re too “busy”…a mentor couldn’t “possibly” understand the complexities of their situation….it’s outside of their “comfort zone”…the list goes on…
Here’s why I find mentoring so valuable:
- It’s often easy to see others’ shortcomings and weaknesses. But, it’s not so easy to identify your own shortcomings. And in fact, sometimes the very thing you criticize in others is something you manifest yourself. You are just “blind” to it. Mentorship is like holding up a mirror to your operating style and clearly seeing your reflection. Mentors aren’t there to validate your self-perceptions; their purpose is to be relentlessly honest and reflect what they observe back to you in a constructive manner.
- Face it…you don’t know everything about everything. You are in good company on this, as you and the rest of humanity are unfailingly human in this regard. Mentorship is as much about knowledge transfer as it is about objective feedback. If a person is open – and “open”-ness is the operative word here — to reaching out and connecting with a mentor, it is highly likely they’ll be rewarded with an actionable kernel of knowledge they can implement that will land them in a better place.
- Who doesn’t need a “safe zone” in this intensely competitive 24:7 working world? Sometimes your BFF at work just doesn’t cut it. For example, what if you have a contentious relationship with a talented, direct report that’s about to hit “prime time live”? It might be hard to discuss with your boss (…risking his/her favorable impression of your managerial skills.) It might be hard to bounce it off your peers (risking their favorable impression of your managerial skills.) And in fact, you might be so upset about it, you can’t even think about it with a clear head. An informal mentor can help you look at the situation from a fresh, non-emotion fraught perspective and brainstorm steps for resolving the problem. The bonus? There’s minimal risk of harming your laboriously built reputation at work will remain intact.
My advice to serious minded high achievers? Open your mind to the possibility that mentorship could be helpful, find a mentor, be open and honest in your dealings with your mentor, listen carefully, and, in terms of the advice received — apply what works and keep the rest in your back pocket. Careers are not built in a day; nor, most times, are they solitary pursuits.