Throughout my career I have had exactly five formal mentors and dozens of informal mentors who have supported me in my career growth. To them I am forever grateful. One question I hear frequently and a topic that was of highest interest when I polled my subscribers was “How do I find a Mentor?” So in this post I will share how I connected with my mentors so you can leverage these tactics in your own career.
The Webster Dictionary defines “Mentor” as an experienced and trusted adviser. If you take it a level deeper Mentoring is a consultative relationship that benefits both the mentee and the mentor by sharing experiences, insight, business strategies and advice.
I was very fortunate in my first mentoring experience at New Balance Inc. The company had a formal program which took career interests and strengths to pair me directly with Kathy who was a more senior leader at New Balance. The program lasted six months and provided a valuable foundation to guide a newbie like myself through expectations and process. The biggest tip that I will pass along to you is that the Mentee MUST take responsibility for establishing the goals and drive the process. I would come to the table for each meeting with 3 topics I wanted to discuss and then report back on what I had accomplished at each subsequent meeting. Show respect for your Mentor’s time and always be prepared.
For my second mentor I looked outside the company and asked a recently retired senior leader to be my mentor. At this phase in my career I felt like I needed someone from the “outside” to help me navigate my next move and John was a skilled mentor providing coaching for many High School students entering the workforce. I was also at the exciting life phase of getting married when I worked with John and his personal focus on family often brought me to tears during our meetings. He pushed me to put together my 5 year plan and start considering what having a family would mean to those plans (whoa I had NO idea what was coming). Don’t forget to look outside your company to people who you admire and ask them directly if they will be your mentor. 90% of the time that person is going to be flattered that you asked and happy to help.
When I was fairly junior in my career and lacking experience managing direct reports I decided to flip the Mentoring experience on its head and take on a Mentee. Not the typical approach for someone at my level but I wanted to show that I could lead and this approach allowed me to sit beside the other mentors in a leadership role. Following the old saying “Act as if”. Everyone has something to teach no matter what level you are at. Today there is a new practice called Reverse Mentoring where leaders get paired with the younger generation to teach them about social media, new technology etc. Any guesses on who I called to help me when I decided to start this blog and IG social series #lilworkstyle [Link] if you haven’t read the piece…none other than my favorite mentee Tighe. Pay it forward, share your skills/passion, offer to be a Mentor.
The mentor relationship I am probably most proud of myself for establishing was my work with Debbie at DSW. At the time I was the Strategic Account Manager selling New Balance footwear to DSW. Debbie is one of the most influential women in the footwear industry and someone I truly admire; but would she have the time AND I didn’t know how to approach the conversation with her. I think fate stepped in on this one because I ended up seated next to Rob, the CEO of New Balance, at a Charity event and he graciously offered to extend the request on my behalf. Rob, who is a huge supporter of mentoring, offered that if the conversation started C-suite to C-suite it would show how serious I was about the request and offered an easy out if time was a challenge. Much to my delight Debbie was more than willing to help me. If you don’t know how to approach the ask enlist a leader you know better at the same level to help you.
I found my current Mentor while leading the development of a formal Mentor program here at Keurig Green Mountain. Since I personally credit my career growth to hard work and great mentors, I wanted to help others have the same opportunities I have enjoyed. While working with HR leadership on the program design one of my VPs suggested I reach out to Tina. I connected with Tina just before I went out on Maternity leave with my second son and she gave me some of the best advice of my career. She simply stated: “Don’t’ be Superwomen, enjoy your time off with your family and new baby; work will be here when you get back” I needed to hear that from someone I looked up to and respected. While we never launched the program when polling our leaders we had over 40 people step up and offer to be mentors, so you can assume in any given company the majority of leaders would gladly take you on as a mentee so just ASK! 🙂 Speak with your HR lead, they will likely know who would be a great Mentor fit for you even if your company does not sponsor a program.Do you have a mentor today? If you have one please share your story in the comments below. If you don’t have one, what is holding you back & please let me know how I can help.
Thanks for reading!