BY CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS – MILLENNIAL ADVISOR TO BABY BOOMER EXECS AND HOST OF #1 PODCAST High Level Wisdom for New Generation Leaders. (ADAPTED FROM AN ARTICLE PREVIOUSLY APPEARING IN FORBES)
At a recent panel discussion with key city leaders, an attendee raised a great question that bears further discussion. “How do those looking to grow in their career go about establishing relationships with seasoned leaders?”
Most of those on the panel said that as the mentee, you must pursue the relationship and set expectations and goals of the mentoring relationship.
I agree with this advice, especially when you consider how busy most leaders are, no matter the position they hold by title. Having clear goals and finding someone who is willing to invest their precious time with you on a regular basis should be well defined. But as I left the event and put more thought into the conversation, I realized that we were missing a critical point.
We’re all used to the idea of someone we can call upon consistently to get advice and help as we grow. As young kids, we play sports and have a coach. In school, we have a teacher who is there with us throughout our educational experience. But this has put undue pressure and unrealistic expectations on career mentors.
In my view, a career mentor can play only three types of roles for you: confidante, supporter and guide. If the relationship is structured correctly, you will build a great asset for your career and life. To do so, I suggest reframing the expectations of what a career mentor is and what he or she is not.
Here are the three most important points to understand:
- Mentors are typically people who invest their time wisely. If they give of their time, you have to ensure that they see you value it as much as they do in every interaction. It helps to prepare questions with an understanding that, as the mentee, you are doing the heavy lifting.
- Mentors are not task masters or checklist checkers. So if you go into the relationship thinking they will tell you exactly what to do, it will not last long.
- Mentors don’t have all the answers you need. One of the mistakes I see those growing in their career make is that they think their mentor knows everything. This is simply not true. When the mentor does not give specific advice, you cannot get upset. The most proven, heavyweight-champion and still-undefeated way to get the answers you need is experience. The best lessons are the ones where the only answer is obtained by getting through the situation, not trying to avoid it.
A career is set by you, developed by your experience, and guided by a mentor. This means that as you mature as an employee or leader, you take ownership of the growth curve. The mentor then gives advice at each milestone on how to achieve the next phase. In my personal career, I have found that it’s best to not engage my mentors if I have not exhausted all the options I have available to achieve my goals first. This way, if I am going to ask for their time, they can trust it’s for a good reason.
But this is a two-way street. Your career mentor must see a way that you can add value to them as well. How, you say? Sometimes it’s through actually leveraging the advice they provide and sharing the results of implementation. Other times, you may be able to provide a different perspective on a problem they are trying to solve. Making yourself available to your mentor allows them to see you want to contribute as much as glean from their expertise. Career mentors see the value of this type of relationship differently then you or I do. Mentors take pride in your success and failures as the connection grows — it’s meaningful to know that you have taught another person how to fish.
No matter what role you choose in a company, you can always grow. Growth requires accepting that your current habits and tools for success may need to change. When you add a career mentor into this equation, it will put you leaps and bounds ahead of those who are climbing the mountain without a rope. This doesn’t mean it will be perfect, but it does mean if you start to fall, someone will be there to help catch you.
To learn more about MentorSelector or to find your mentor or life coach, please click here. We are always looking for more mentors to join our family – its a great initiative that is mutually rewarding for both mentor and mentee – please click here to register as a mentor.