|Making Mentoring Work for You
By By Deborah Rosado Shaw
Whatever your definition of mentoring - advisor, coach, sounding board - most of us have some sense that the right mentors can make or break our careers. And you’re right. Ask anyone who’s achieved any real success and they can easily point to the critical mentors that made all the difference.
So whether you are lucky enough to have a formal mentoring program right within your organization or you’ve ventured out and created your own informal mentoring relationships, here are a few ways to maximize this opportunity:
Be Coachable: In each of these relationships the defining factor for success is you. Be open-minded, curious and a great listener.
Don’t Try to Look Good: You’ve got to be willing to openly discuss your strengths and weaknesses. Be straight and speak the truth.
Make it Safe: A defensive posture will have your mentor hold back the very things you need to hear the most. Brace yourself and invite the feedback.
Be prepared: You are responsible for driving this relationship. Come to each interaction prepared with an agenda of issues and opportunities.
Report back regularly: You don’t have to implement their every idea or recommendation, but you do need to let them know what you are doing with their insights and advice.
Mix it up: Don’t limit who you can learn from and how. Seek multiple mentors in assorted flavors; formal, informal, temporary, life long, within your company, outside your industry. What matters is that you get a broad spectrum of wisdom.
Permission not required: You don’t need someone’s agreement in order for them to be your mentor. For many years, I closely watched and followed the highest ranking woman in my industry. I read every speech and kept abreast of each news item. She became an informal mentor and one of my greatest teachers.
Don’t get stopped: If any of the mentoring relationships you’re in aren’t delivering, move on. Your career is your responsibility. It’s up to you to get what you need.
When Mentoring Isn’t Enough:
While mentoring is a critical component of any successful career, it’s important to understand its limitations. Getting mentored is about getting developed by someone who is senior to you in skillset and experience whose career and life you admire and emulate. But a mentor has a day job. No matter how committed they are – you are not their priority. More importantly they can only share with you from their specific worldview so the toolkit is limited.
Under many circumstances, a coach is in order. This is someone with an expansive track record, often across many industries. They are highly trained in specific methodologies to maximize your potential and results. Think about the great athletes of our time. On the court with them is a coach whose primary job is to make sure they win by challenging their assumptions, helping them see their blind spots and holding them accountable for their objectives.
Here’s when a coach is a great idea:
You are in a politically volatile situation and speaking your truth is dangerous.
Your mentors and/or managers keep pointing to a particular skillset you’ve got to build.
Something is missing, but you don’t know what it is.
You’re stuck or are in a real state of flux and need to create a whole new game plan.
You’re asked to be on that plum project or finally got that hard-earned promotion...
Do I Need A Sponsor?
You’ve got the experience and track record. Within reach is top level leadership where extraordinary impact, influence and income is the game. If this is you, then sponsors are key.
These are very high level executives willing to take calculated risks to advance your career.
Often this happens behind closed doors when you’re not in the room.
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Deborah Rosado Shaw is a Fortune 500 Advisor, award-winning entrepreneur, career & success coach, author & speaker.