Mentors are a great source of advice and guidance, especially early on in your career.
Dad was a big mentor for me, and it was him who convinced me to take on the accounting degree that led into business and journalism. Robert Gottliebsen, the founding editor of BRW, was another. He became one of my first mentors in business after asking me to join the magazine soon after he started it.
So, in that sense, I’ve been lucky. The people I sought out for advice through the early stages of my career were always very close and accessible. However, there have been other people I’ve looked up to and learnt a ton from, some of which I’ve only had passing relationships with.
You see, mentoring doesn’t necessarily depend on close, regular relationships. A lot can be learnt from afar too.
It’s all about learning from people you respect and getting their opinion on decisions you’re unsure about. And by listening, reading and watching people whose judgement and track record you admire, a lot can be learnt without that one-on-one relationship.
If you respect a public figure or politician, read their book and follow their blog. Maybe you want to learn from the experiences of a social commentator or successful businessperson? Listen to their interviews, attend conferences they’re speaking at and tune into podcasts.
Of course, for specific guidance, it’s important to have people you can regularly call on too. Just don’t limit the definition of mentoring to a specific relationship.
As to how to go about finding those one-on-one mentors, the first step is to ask yourself what you want in a mentor or sponsor. Just like a finding a job and career that matches up values and qualifications, a mentor must match too.
To do that it’s crucial to identify career goals, what the end game is and the type of person, both in terms of values and experience, that can help you get there.
A mentor should be someone that will challenge you, ask tough questions and help guide the big your career calls, but they must also be compatible and supportive too.
One way to identify the profile of a good mentor is to recall the last time you were challenged by a boss that invested the time and resources into helping you grow into that challenge. This is a pretty good yardstick for the type of person that will make a great mentor.
Once you know what you’re looking for and the things to get out of the relationship, it’s time to find a mentor.
Often it’s pretty close to home – a current employer or business circle – and no more searching is required. But a more formal approach is to check if work has a mentoring program or, outside that, industry interest groups, business bodies, networking groups or the local Chamber of Commerce. These are all rich sources of business guidance, but if there’s nothing suitable in these places then be sure to ask for referrals.
Apart from the formality of industry bodies, it definitely pays to look outside work because there’s a good chance people in your own network will be able to introduce quality contacts to approach.
It might just be for a coffee to talk about the industry at first, and that’s great, but if there’s a mutual respect and enthusiasm it can grow into something more regular. A word of personal opinion though – you don’t have to make a formal request.
It’s a relationship like any other and will develop organically over time. The most important thing is to build that respect and confidence.
Of course having a formal relationship is part of any mentoring program, and a lot of people do like to make the mentor-protégé relationship official, but for mine its better left to grow by itself.
As to mentoring roles, be sure to do your bit. It’s not all one way, so see what opportunities it might be possible to open up in return and even see if you’re in a position to pass on the favour and mentor someone yourself.
This is a terrific way to get an understanding of the whole relationship and will help you get, and give, better guidance yourself.
It’s important to be motivated, ask good questions when help is needed, and demonstrate a hunger to succeed and act on advice to get the most out of a mentor.
But the most important thing? Listen, show respect and be reliable.
Mentoring is about professional growth by learning from others, so take responsibility for your side of the relationship by listening carefully and being accountable. Good luck.