Who are your mentors? If you don’t have one – are you missing out? Undermining your career?
The common wisdom is that we should all have mentors; ideally, several. We should seek them out, and, when necessary, move on, and find new ones. And if a mentor or two isn’t quite enough, we should also find sponsors – those executives who go beyond sharing skills and insights to standing alongside us, endorsing us, welcoming us into their networks, so we can get to places we wouldn’t have access to on our own.
The funny thing is that most marketers – even really seasoned ones – typically say they wished they had a mentor. (That comes right after saying they need to network more often.) So how do you find a mentor? And once you get one, what do you do with them?
First, this is not long-term monogamy. (It’s more like really satisfying serial dating.)
If you’re truly lucky you’ll find a mentor who helps you shape how you approach your work, and perhaps, your life. It’s also fine if these relationships are situational, and much less involved when the conditions change. That’s because mentors reveal new ways of thinking about things, usually in areas where we need to grow. Once we develop those skills, we don’t always need them in quite the same way. That’s fine. Sometimes, friendships follow. Sometimes, we surpass our own mentors.
Asking the Question
It’s fine, and potentially flattering, to ask someone to be a mentor; it’s equally OK for them to say no. They may not have time, or interest, or or even feel they have the skills to mentor you. Better to know that now. Similarly, if they’ve said yes, but are not as available as you’d like, ask about it. There could be a fix; or it may be a bad fit. Having a mentor who isn’t one isn’t very helpful.
So Now You Have a Mentor…
Own it. Do the work. Invite them to meet. Have topics to discuss. More importantly, be honest about how you’ve taken their advice, what’s working, and what isn’t. Identify where you’re struggling. Everyone – particularly busy people – likes to know they’ve had an impact. Owning the feedback loop is probably the single-best way to keep a mentor interested. Paying for drinks is assumed, but not enough.
My own mentors? There wasn’t one — more like about a dozen, I think. Mostly I remember what they said, how they challenged me, when they saw around the corners that I had refused to acknowledge. The length of time a mentor stays with you, or you with them, is not the prize. It’s what they give us, and in turn, the ways we give back.
Finding mentors isn’t easy – here are a few tips on seeking mentors in your own peer group.