In Greek mythology the character Mentor (often the Goddess Athena in disguise) was the trusted guardian Odysseus appointed to watch over his son Telemachus when he departed for the Trojan War. The pivotal role Mentor played in the development of the young Telemachus inspired the notion of mentoring, a term that first became popular in the 18th century and probably enjoys more popularity now than ever before.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the modern-day mentor is “a trusted counselor or guide.” Think of a mentor as someone who knows the ropes of your career path and is willing to share the good and bad of their past experiences so as to help you make informed choices. Consider that a study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) found that 75% of executives attribute their success in-part to having a mentor. The study also found that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have some type of internal mentoring program. There is no doubt value in having a mentor.
Selecting a Mentor
Choosing the right mentor is about fit. First you should seek someone whose past experiences align with your future ambitions. Look for someone who has gone down a similar path to the one you are seeking and is willing to openly share the experiences of their journey. It’s also important to feel comfortable with your mentor. The relationship has to be open and honest in order to be effective. When establishing a mentoring relationship always be upfront about your expectations and ambitions. Let your mentor know where you are trying to go with your career and what is driving your ambitions.
Your mentor should not be someone you report to as that will complicate the relationship and only serve to limit the scope of what you can honestly discuss. The best and most effective mentor-mentee relationship is one that is self-selected and mutually beneficial. Seek out a mentor who not only has the requisite knowledge and experience for helping you succeed, but one who also has an interest in being a part of your success. Often the mentor is merely looking to pass along their knowledge and experience in return for that feeling of satisfaction in helping a young protégé succeed. Be sure to understand how you can best meet that need.
Role of Mentor
One of the roles that a mentor can play is in helping you navigate the internal politics of an organization or industry. Political gaming and posturing isn’t something easily learned on your own. Working with a mentor can give you a leg-up in spotting the political land mines that often derail fledgling careers. A mentor can also provide tremendous value as a sounding board when it comes to testing new ideas or considering how to approach a touchy situation at the office. The idea is to leverage your mentor’s knowledge and experience as a tool for making good decisions.
Being a Good Protégé
As a mentee it is up to you to drive the relationship. Your mentor is not your manager. The burden should always be on you to take the initiative in arranging meetings, setting goals, and asking the right questions. Try to keep your interactions conversational and not too structured. You want the relationship to be somewhat casual, so as to allow for a free flow of thoughts and ideas. Be sure to listen to their ideas and be willing to try out some of what they recommend.
We are all victims of living in our own heads and it often takes an outsider to give us that well-needed dose of reality. A good mentor can be tremendous advantage in enhancing your career opportunities if you are willing to build and foster the relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial and aligned with your career goals. Commit the time and go find yourself a good mentor!