At a recent career development workshop for Young Professionals (YPs), I participated in a panel on mentoring. What a great group of knowledgeable and wise people, including Margaret Finley from Chase who moderated. Panelists included:
*Jason Jenkins, Big Brothers Big Sisters
*Eric Troy, Ohio Department of Education
*Marilyn Pritchett, Mentoring Center of Central Ohio
*Lindsay Andrews, SMPS Columbus
*Janine Hancock Jones, Governor’s Staff [same name, same spelling!]
I noted that a number of folks in the audience were looking for mentors yet others were looking for how and where to be a mentor. While some had experience with mentoring programs, most panelists spoke to the tremendous value of informal mentors. Since lifelong learning is a 21st century necessity, informal mentoring is of value to everyone and is an ongoing requirement for Career Owners!
Informal mentors provide lifelong learning opportunities when and where you need them; give you the freedom to approach people from a variety of sources; and [can] help you reduce the blind spots that sabotage and get in the way of progress.
So just in case you’ve wondered but didn’t quite know how to go about it, a few thoughts on finding those informal mentors:
1. Stop waiting to be picked…it’s OK to recruit the mentor you want!
2. Look outside of your (work) organization to professional associations, community groups, civic and alumni associations and other interest groups. Mentors don’t have to spring from work in order to mentor you on career or professional issues.
3. A mentoring relationship can be as short as a single conversation or one that lasts for years…it depends on what the people involved create.
4. Align what you’d like to learn with what you think your mentor can teach you. If you admire someone’s ability to speak in front of a group, then to approach him/her about becoming a more comfortable speaker is probably a good goal and fit. If you’ve watched someone align two opposite sides around an issue, then you have a potential mentor who can help you learn collaboration and conflict techniques.
5. Prepare to approach a mentor: the easier and more comfortable you make your initial conversation, the more likely the individual is to say ‘yes.’ Know what you’d like to learn and why. Know how that learning will improve you as a professional. Be ready to suggest some structure that will help a relationship thrive. For example, you might say:
I admire the way you were able to pull together the diverse perspectives of the people on this committee. I know that it would strengthen my value in my workplace if I had those skills. Would you be willing to meet for a short time and discuss the possibility of mentoring me on the skills needed and how I could develop them?
I would be glad to meet at a time and place convenient for you; I’d be delighted to buy you a cup of coffee or tea! I’ll plan to call you at your office to schedule a time that works for you.
So you’re asking for the opportunity to meet and discuss the possibility of mentoring…you’re not requesting a long-term commitment. You have also made it easy for the individual to say ‘yes’ by offering to align with their schedule and time. This really says you are thoughtful and not trying to impose unduly. You have identified something specific that you would like to learn, so you are sending the message that you can identify your own learning goals, and that you will not be dependent upon the mentor to do that for you!
While most people are flattered to be asked to be a mentor, your thoughtfulness in scheduling time makes it comfortable: you’re really thinking about WIIFT: What’s In It For Them!
How you approach the meeting itself is food for the next blog post. There, too, having done some planning to move through an agenda and take responsibility for your needs–at the same time being thoughtful of your mentor’s time commitment–is much more likely to be appreciated and get you ongoing mentoring.
So get going now–identify at least 3 or 4 people who might be your mentors and approach at least one with a specific request for a skill or information you’d like to learn. With your meeting scheduled, next week’s post on how to have that first meeting will be timely…I’ll tell you exactly how to approach it so that your mentor wants to establish an ongoing, professional relationship with you, and so you are both better for the experience!