The Delicate Art of Leveraging a Mentor

by | Feb 20, 2021 | Blog

Growing your career is NOT a chance event.

Growing Your Career

Growing a career is not a chance event. If you are leaving your future career opportunities up to others, then you are making a mistake. You MUST take charge of your own career and chart your course. Part of charting your course requires you to figure out where you want to be and who can help you get there. A good mentor provides a valuable service by sharing experience-based ideas to help you achieve your potential.

According to Ken Perlman’s article in Forbes,The Often Overlooked but Invaluable Benefits of Mentorship,” an important part of developing strong leadership skills comes from a close association with strong mentors who help show the way to lead. Younger professionals or junior executives can especially gain value from a mentor who can help you focus on your goals. A good mentor provides seasoned perspective and relevant advice uniquely adapted to your situation.

One of the most valuable mentoring experiences I had was when a very senior officer pulled me aside and told me to carefully plan where I wanted to be in 20 years and then plot the steps it takes to get there. The first step in that process was to observe the careers of those who had achieved what I was after and then apply their model to my plan.

Transparency and Focus Leads to Value

There is a traditional method of mentoring, which has a hierarchical feel to it. Without question, hierarchical mentors (those who are senior to you) have tremendous value to add. They can help you spot opportunities to grow your network and expand your vision for what you really offer.

There is a second type of mentoring, which is called accountability partnership – it is more like peer-to-peer mentoring. An Inc. Magazine article by Jessica Stillman, “Why Accountability Partners Beat Mentors,”  explains the concept nicely. This second type of mentoring uses peer pressure to leverage self-improvement.

Another Inc. Magazine article by Nicolas Cole, “3 Ways To Attract The Mentor You Truly Want,” enlightens us on three critical steps we should take in order to attract the right mentor and receive value from that mentor. 

Step 1: Mentor Yourself First

Assess yourself and look for ways to figure out how you can improve. I recommend an excellent short book by Peter Drucker entitled, Managing Oneself. The fact is, if you are not committed to self-mentoring you are probably not going to be able to appreciate the mentoring that someone else could give you.

Step 2: Be Teachable

Develop your teachability skills. How likely are you to be able to listen to critical feedback about you, or about your work and be able to change? If you are resistant to feedback-driven change, some of which can be personally painful, you’re not likely to be successful with a mentor.

Step 3: Be Appreciative

Gratitude is a key to enduring relationships. Great leaders are busy people. When they take the time to work with you, even briefly, do two things: (1) Be grateful and show appreciation, and (2) Work on the things they tell you to work on – that’s an important form of showing appreciation.

For Career Growth – Be Mentored

A Forbes article by Lisa Quast onHow Becoming a Mentor Can Boost Your Career,” revealed an important finding about the careers of those who are mentored. Sun Microsystems examined the careers of 1,000 of their employees and found that when a person received mentoring they were 20% more likely to get a raise and 5 times more likely to be promoted.

Why such a difference? Two reasons.

Promotion Invitation: Being mentored gives you access to wise counsel and information to help you strategically identify opportunities and position yourself to be invited into those opportunities. The difference is that you go from asking to be promoted to being invited into the promotion.

Authentic Advocate: Leaders who mentor you develop an authentic interest in your success. They look for ways to help doors to open in your behalf. It’s like having an advocate in the boardroom.

Look in the Mirror

We cannot achieve our ultimate potential without understanding ourselves thoroughly. The process of coming to that complete and ultimate personal understanding is often a life-time journey. Each experience leads to another finding, another self-discovery. We want to use those self-discoveries to improve ourselves and enhance our abilities and prepare ourselves for the next self-discovery opportunity.

Mentoring is one of the many excellent tools for accelerating self-discovery. Molly Petrilla wrote an article in Fast Company’s online magazine, “How to be Someone People Really Want to Mentor,” explaining the importance of presenting the real you to your mentor. When that happens, the mentor sees the strengths and the weaknesses and now has some valuable content to work with to coach you. If you withhold and are not transparent you will give your mentor an imposter, not an authentic mentee.

Use your mentor’s valuable time to help you leverage strengths and improve weaknesses. The authentic transparent approach will give you a true professional look in the mirror.

Solving Problems

We commonly think of getting a coach as a way to help us with personal growth, and that is an incredibly valuable component of the mentoring process. Another strong reason for having trusted coaches is the ability to help solve problems.

Problems range in complexity. There is plenty of formal training on leadership available, but some of the thorny questions are better answered in private 1-1 type of settings with someone who knows you and someone who can provide reflective insight into a problem you are dealing with.

For example, some leaders wrestle with making decisions in the face of a culture that encourages high degrees of collaboration. They confuse collaboration with the responsibility of the leader to make clear and concise decisions. This is a perfect problem to discuss with a seasoned mentor.

Even the most accomplished leaders seek mentors to help solve thorny problems. Paul Yock is a professor in the school of medicine at Stanford and a prominent cardiovascular researcher and inventor. In this video segment he shares how “Mentoring Changed My Life.

Paul, as accomplished as he is, sought the peer-mentoring help of three other leaders to help solve the problem of visualizing inside the blood vessel during surgery.

The Bottom-Line

Having a mentor or two will benefit your career in many ways. That said, don’t forget the ultimate responsibility lies with you. Take charge of your career. When you work with a mentor remember these key points: (A) be planful, (B) respect your mentor’s time, (C) be professional, (D) don’t just take – make sure you give as well, and (E) focus your time with your mentor on high-value content.

Continue Learning

If you like this article you will probably enjoy our podcast. We feature top leaders such as the former CFO of Apple, a Nike leader, and other leaders from companies ranging from Fortune 50 to startups. We designed our podcast specifically to help future leaders. 

Another Way to Continue Learning

We published a book that may interest you entitled, “Growing Your Career is Not a Chance Event.”

Article Written by Dr. Gordon Whitehead

Article Written by Dr. Gordon Whitehead

Founder of Leaders247

Gordon Whitehead is the founder of Leaders247 and specializes in leadership and organizational development with a particular interest in helping emerging leaders accelerate their leadership growth.

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