Posts Tagged ‘mentoring’

Making the Most of Mentoring

I love having the flexibility at work to take an hour or two out of my day and either give back or enhance my skills.  I try to balance between taking time out to talk to a high school class or after school club about engineering and to work on building my own skills.  Today I took out an hour to listen to a webinar about making the most out of mentoring. (If you find my analysis valuable, consider signing up with Jo Miller to listen to some of the other webinars she has going this year)

I appreciated that the webinar brought out three baselines needed to get the most out of mentoring: luck, performance, and recognizing opportunities.

  • Luck– I believe that about 50% of life is just being in the right place at the right time.  I think you have to go into a mentoring relationship knowing that they will help with your skills and plans, but that part of getting that next opportunity is also dependent on luck and timing.  It takes some patience.
  • Performance– It’s alot easier to find, engage, and keep mentors when you are a high performer and have the right attitude and effort in your current job.
  • Recognizing Opportunities– I find most people are change adverse.  When you walk into a mentoring relationship, you have to accept they are going to ask you to change.  You need to be open to listening and trying new skills, new jobs, and hearing about another perspective.  I’ve found in my experience that being open to trying new things has helped me immensely.  (my current job came from an opportunity I wasn’t sure I wanted…I took advice from a mentor and flew to Austin for a speaking engagement that has reaped me huge benefits- including getting paid to speak in Boston!…it’s amazing what happens when you just go for it)

When you do go out to get mentors, make sure you are building a “board of directors of mentors”.  I agree that these are the right types of mentors to have.  I think I would expand the list some to state that sometimes you need mentors that are not in your company.  I think that an advisor or two who can talk to you about other opportunities in the industry and geographical area is very valuable- especially in this time of job instability.

  • Coaches– These are the mentors, usually somewhat informally, who you work with on a regular basis to build your skills.  I have a few coaches.  One is a peer of mine who I talk with at least once a week and discuss how to best approach situations, handle communications, and when to escalate issues.  Another coach I’m using to build my technical skills and yet another I’m using to work on my communications with senior management.
  • Appraisers- These are the mentors who can talk to your performance versus potential and help gauge your value.  I have found that my manager doesn’t always see everything that I do.  So I go out and poll certain people I work with and ask them to give me some assessments on what I’m good at and where they see I have potential that I could further develop.  I’ve also gone to mentors and asked if they thought I might have the skills to do a certain job, or take on a particular project.
  • Advisors- These are the mentors who can help assess your plans and help highlight routes to take, usually they are more senior leaders than you and have visibility and perspective. This is the most difficult category for mentors for me.  I think it’s because I am never quite sure where I want to go next and feel awkward having more open ended conversations with senior leaders.  That said, I have certainly had some of these advisors at one point or another and they have been very helpful in looking outside my narrow view of the possible opportunities at the company.  My advisors have also helped show me different routes to take.
  • Referral Agents- These are mentors who can help you make connections to get information and visibility.  I love to meet new people and am a natural connector.  I have found that most of jobs and even big success at work have come from asking others outside of my direct realm for information or a contact for more information.  My advice is to find people who are natural connectors, especially those in an area you want to grow, and ask for their mentorship- even if it is just for a short while.

Once you identify one of the potential mentors above, set up a 20min informational meeting with them and bring 3-4 concise questions.  I’ve sometimes had to wait awhile to get the meeting (I think 2 months is my longest so far), but no one has turned me down yet.

Formal mentoring programs are good ones to meet potential mentors and get your foot in the door for the informational interview- but the best mentoring relationships come when there is chemistry.  If you meet with a mentor and don’t feel any chemistry, it’s better to find someone else than keep pushing on that one.

When do should you become a mentor?  NOW!!   I do believe that people wait to long to be a mentor.  I was mentoring people without admitting to myself I was a mentor because I thought I didn’t have enough experience.  Once you get through engineering school, you can mentor students still in school.  Once you get through your first year at a job, you can help others through their first year.  I have some great coaching relationships with my peers that have blossomed into very symbiotic mentoring.

Want a way to get started?  At a minimum consider signing up to be a mentor on mentornet! I was a mentee in college and had a great email mentor.  I’ve since mentored quite a few people.  It’s fun and you’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself and how much advice you really have to give.

Happy Mentoring and Mentor Seeking 🙂