At the ripe old age of eighteen I was promoted into my first assistant-manager position. To say I knew nothing about leading people was an understatement. Two weeks into my promotion I actually heard the words “Because I’m your boss and I said so” come out of my mouth. Wowza, I realized I was in over my head! Luckily, I worked for a company that understood the benefits of mentorship and realized the manager I was working under was not a good fit, so they paired me with another seasoned manager, Nancy, who quickly became my trusted counselor and guide. Nancy had an amazing blend of mentor qualities that complemented me and helped me grow and stretch out of my comfort zone.
When selecting your mentor look for these mentor characteristics:
- Are they willing to share their knowledge with you? My first mentor feared that I would grow past her and perhaps take her job. So, she held back on mentoring exercises that would aid in my growth.
- Does their personality complement yours? You do not want a carbon copy of yourself. You do however want a mentor that understands your starting point, how you process decisions and understands your behavioral (personality) style. Their mentor responsibility is to show you the path to your growth and walk you out of your comfort zone into your growth zone.
- Are they happy with their career? Success does not equal happiness. A mentor may be very successful in their career and secretly hate their job. Listen for the clues; if they repeat things such as “This is a thankless job. No one will appreciate all the hard work you put into your position” Perhaps they have reached burnout. They will not be a good mentor for you. They will not have your best interest in mind, instead they will look to you as their way out.
- Have they been where you are trying to go? Experience is the best teacher. A huge mentor benefit is getting to learn off the mistakes of others. When your mentor has stood in your shoes, made mistakes and recovered to successfully climb the ladder, they can show you the best by-passes, practices and techniques to cut your learning curve.
- Are they committed to learning and growing? A retired CEO who saw great success in their career can be a very effective mentor. However, if they are not continually sharpening their skillset and keeping up to date on industry changes, they may unknowingly lead you astray.
Once you’ve selected your mentor, define your mentor expectation and create a “contract” or agreement where both parties understand what is expected of them. Be very clear on what each of you expect to give and receive within the mentor relationship.
Set clear boundaries:
- What topics are off limits?
- How often and where will you check-in or meet with one another? Weekly, monthly? Via phone, in person or video chat?
- Who do you expect your mentor to introduce you to? Are there business connections you need to make that your mentor has a relationship with?
- How long is the mentorship program? Set a timeline to reevaluate the relationship. Know that at this time either party can decide to continue or end the mentorship.
It is important to note that the mentor is responsible to the mentee not for the mentee. It is the mentees responsibility to follow through with assignments and inform the mentor of their questions, comments and concerns.
I met my mentor over thirty years ago. The lessons she taught me, I have taught others. I can honestly not even remember the name of my first (unsuccessful) mentor. However, I am very proud to say I still call Nancy my trusted friend and advisor.