Recruiting Mentors: How To, Part 2

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So you’ve decided that you want a mentor and you have several people in your sights! You’ve approached one who has agreed to meet with you next week, so you’re home free: you’ve found a mentor!

Not so fast! You may have found a mentor, and she might be willing to take the lead, but why get lazy now? Your first meeting is your opportunity to show your (potential) mentor that you are serious about your development and you’ve already put some work into making the relationship a good one for both of you.

The most effective mentoring relationships have these things in common:

1. Goals–better yet, learning pieces

2. Structure & Expectations                                                            

3. Follow-up and Follow-through                                   

4. Skills awareness

Of course you have Goals, but have you written them? Have you thought beyond the broadest, most obvious outcomes? For example, “to become a confident speaker” is a great long-term goal, and many people may be willing to help you. But consider this: why did you select the particular person you approached? What–specifically–about her speaking made her your choice? What pieces of “a confident speaker” made you select this person at this time?

Is it the way she tells a story? Is it how her body language conveys “I know my stuff”? Is it the little humorous bits that keep the message light?  Get specific about what you want to learn, and your mentor will be able to hone in on “how-tos” that make the best use of your time together!

Structure and expectations means that you’ve given thought to the details of your mentoring arrangement so your mentor doesn’t have to! Think about how long it may take you to learn what you’re seeking; consider the kind of commitment you’re asking from your mentor; ask yourself if it’s a reasonable commitment for the mentor’s schedule. And, then consider the kind of meeting options that may make sense. Coffee? Lunch? Phone calls between meetings? Weekly email check-ins?

Follow-up and follow-through means taking the initiative to keep the relationship sound for both of you. Maybe you drop an email after a meeting to put your next steps in writing and to say “thanks”–even though you said it in person. You can send an outlook or meeting scheduling note so that your next meeting/coffee/telephone call gets on your mentor’s schedule. You might send a note the week prior to your scheduled meeting with a list of the agenda items you’d like to discuss–this serves as a scheduling reminder, too. If you see your mentor mentioned in a story on community leaders, you might drop her a note saying Congratulations! or (if it’s in print) clip the story and send to her–yes, via snail mail! All of these thoughtful items tend to the relationship and help avoid misunderstandings. Bottom line: stay in touch!

Skills awareness is a reminder to use and sharpen those skills most helpful in building a strong mentoring  relationship: listening, querying, attending and feedback–giving and receiving. Handle distractions before you meet; turn your cell phone off, or, if you are awaiting a critical call, tell your mentor before you begin. Ask questions that start with “what” or “how” since both provide opportunity for expanding learning. Talk about follow- through you’ve completed and request suggestions for improvement: “How might I approach this next time?” ” How could I do this differently?” Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership guru, calls this feed-forward rather than feed-back. When you use it often, it becomes a comfortable way to explore options without the worry associated with “feedback.”

Being a thoughtful protege–one willing to do her homework and make it easy for a mentor to say ‘yes’–is the best way to have lots of mentors as you go through your career. You can establish relationships that work for you both…where you can learn from each other.

Have a question or wondering about being or recruiting a mentor? Leave it in the comment area: if you’re wondering,  someone else is, too!

Mentors: Have one? Want one?

Mentoring has risen to the top this week. In addition to presenting a workshop for a new association program, I was approached about creating a webinar; the topic has cropped up in several conversations as well. Believing in synchronicity, I expect there’s a good reason it’s gaining new interest: mentoring is needed.

It’s hard to find a mentor.
One person’s perception is their truth, although I suspect that there is a much broader application of this statement. Do any of these outdated beliefs apply to you?



>you’re too busy (or think you are) to be a mentor;
>the mentor has to approach you;
>going after a mentor admits a weakness;
>offering to be a mentor would send an undesirable message, i.e. you need one;
>you have to be older and very experienced to be a mentor;
>mentoring is ‘out of vogue’; it’s really just common sense anyway.

Lots of excuses and misperceptions get in the way of really helpful relationships. If you’d like a mentor or if you’d like to be one, don’t let any of these misguided beliefs stop you!

What if you get turned down?
Yep, what if you do? The sun will still rise tomorrow and you can regroup. Really, chances are slim that you’ll be turned down if you ask someone to mentor you. Here’s why:

1. When you ask someone to be your mentor, it’s flattering. Everyone likes to be appreciated and considered valuable, and when you ask “Would you be willing to mentor me in this skill?” you’re recognizing expertise.
2. When you offer to serve as a mentor, it’s also flattering. You’re saying that you see value in the individual and you want to assist in their development.

How do you get started?
Why not become part of an existing mentorship program to learn the rules of the road? Whether it’s a program through a Boys & Girls Club or one through a college, the experience will give you information and skills that you can apply to personal mentoring. If your employer or your professional association has a program, get involved in that. These types of more formal programs provide some structure and tested approaches that foster success.

Regardless of where you live, chances are good that a local non-profit association would welcome you into their program as a volunteer mentor. This is a great opportunity to give to the community while learning structure, expectations and skills that make mentoring relationships thrive.

Short of finding an already-up-and-running program, you can get a mentor or be a mentor without one. You just have to wanna and go after it.

If you want a mentor, decide what you want to learn or what skill(s) you want to develop. Define 2 or 3 people who are effective at these things, and collect your thoughts. Approach your first choice, being polite, concise and clear with your request:

“You appear to be a master at making presentations seem effortless, and if I could do that it would strengthen my value to my organization. Would you be willing to mentor me and help me improve? If so, I’ll be happy to work within your schedule and follow your suggestions for development. I’m serious about learning from you and will keep all commitments I make.”

This makes it clear that you’ve thought about initiating the conversation, you recognize the “give and take” of the mentoring relationship, and you respect the mentor’s abilities as well as their time. In a couple of sentences, you’ve proposed a learning relationship that will be satisfying for both.

What do you have to lose?
Mentoring is a one-on-one, customized way to grow your skills and get the knowledge needed to stay on top of the changes in your workplace. Whatever you learned in your last training class or degree program gets outdated pretty quickly…as the global market continues to innovate, you and your organization must change to keep up and move ahead. Don’t ignore the learning you can get easily, informally and through “master practitioners” whose expertise ensures that you bridge the gap between theory and application. Really, what do you have to lose? And what do you have to gain?

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: tell us your best mentoring story and pass along your wisdom–you can be the catalyst for someone else!