By: La Tondra Murray, Director of Professional Masters Programs
One of the best things that you can do in any industry is to work with a good mentor. In my experience, people often underestimate the degree to which a mentor can help you learn the landscape, build relationships and manage challenges in the workplace. The search for a strong mentor, however, can be daunting at first thought.
Any approach can ultimately work if you can collaborate with a mentor who is willing to share his or her experiences while simultaneously getting to know you. Trust, honesty and vulnerability all play a role in strongest of mentor-protégé pairings.
The first step, however, is to find the right, willing candidate. As you search for and ultimately ask someone to serve as a mentor, here are a few things that you can do from the start:
- Develop clear goals for the interaction. What is it that you want to get out of a mentor-protégé relationship? Are you interested in growing your technical expertise? Do you want to learn more about the organization’s product lines? Would you like to create better strategies for work-life integration? If you give some serious thought to what you’d like to glean from your mentor upfront, you’ll be able to: 1) make a stronger case for who you specifically want to work with as well as why and 2) gain a clearer view of how you want to progress over time. You should also think about how you want to contribute as the best partnerships are mutually beneficial.
- Think beyond your immediate team. Sometimes is it helpful to get the perspective of someone who isn’t aligned with your department, business unit, or even your company. Mentors can certainly be internal to your organization, but consider the possibilities outside the realm of your employer as well. At the end of the day, mentors can often provide a unique vantage point based on their experience and knowledge. If you can look beyond the people you have access to on a daily basis anyway, you may be able to engage with someone else with surprising results.
- Be prepared to work with more than one person. Mentors can serve different purposes in your professional life, so you don’t need to have an exclusive arrangement with a single person. As I tell my own mentees, ‘we can see other people.’ While you don’t want to have so many mentors that you can’t create a quality relationship with any of them, I do think that there is value is establishing a small ‘board of directors’ that can help you flourish in the areas that are important to you. An open mindset will release you from the expectations that one individual can help you with everything.
- Choose someone who is different from you. While it is often comforting to align ourselves with a mentor who shares our gender, race, educational background, etc., we may miss out on an opportunity to leverage diversity in our favor. A mentor with a background that varies from yours can provide you with unique insight. Don’t be afraid to venture beyond your comfort zone to connect with someone different. You stand to make tremendous gains if you can broaden your horizons.
Most people will be more than willing to help, but you need to take the initial step. Figure out who you would like to learn from and reach out!
What other strategies would you suggest when it comes to finding a mentor? Leave a comment to let us know!
Dr. La Tondra Murray and her fantastic mentor of 20+ years Dr. Mary Carol Day