2010 Career Challenge: M = Mentor

By Skip Lineberg

If you want to get ahead … to accelerate your success … you can:

Work harder (we’ve all tried that);

Suck up to an influential (but that’s rather pathetic, isn’t it);

Get smarter (take a training seminar or get an advanced degree); or

Hope for a lucky break.

But there is also another way.

Find a mentor!

In the workplace, we’re surrounded by many types of people, from co-workers and team leaders to supervisors and managers. Some of them have an interest in your success, and others…not so much. After all, they have their own self-interests, problems, challenges and priorities too.

A mentor, on the other hand, is someone who has taken a direct, unselfish interest in your success. A mentor is an advisor, one who shares wisdom and teachings. They are critical partners in your development and, most importantly, they can help you unlock your true potential.

Few would dispute the fact that having a mentor is a great thing, a blessing indeed. But–alas–how to find one?

Obviously, it’s not easy. It is partly dependent upon good fortune and good timing. Since you can’t force someone to become your mentor, it has to occur somewhat organically. (Many well-intentioned companies have tried to create “mentor initiatives” that ultimately fail because, in short, people either click or they don’t.)

So what can you, as a young professional, do to create the right conditions to attract a mentor? Without question, this is a rich and deep topic, but here are two tangible pieces of advice:

Be Prepared. Arm yourself with the understanding that beginning a relationship with a mentor is an investment. You will need to devote the extra time and energy to become actively engaged with your mentor, and don’t expect them to always initiate the communication or the learning environment. Be ready to put forth questions and topics for exploration, and be ready to respond to information, questions and references sent your way. Most mentors want inquisitive, energetic mentees, so come in to the relationship demonstrating energy and a true desire to learn and improve.

Activate Your Sensors. Begin thinking about potential mentors and know what to look for. Seek out those who meet the following criteria:

  • Helpful, giving nature and generous spirit
  • Good communicator
  • Demonstrated willingness to teach others
  • Genuine interest in others
  •  Authentic kindness  
  • Easily approachable
  • Possesses the experience, skills, and smarts you’re looking to develop

The book Emily and I wrote sprung directly from our shared experiences and learning as mentor (yours truly) and protégé – turned – successful young professional (Emily). Not all of you will be lucky enough to develop a relationship that spans more than a decade but, I think we’re proof of how rewarding it can be when you do.

Note: This is Part 13 in a series called the “2010 Career Challenge: Becoming a Rock Star from A to Z” by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg, co-authors of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job.

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