The best part about your career is the fact that it can be a journey.
It can include multiple chapters in the book of you. Some good, some bad, some in between. I’ve written in the past about the idea that this journey is just a race with yourself. Figure out where you are, decide where you want to be and then chart out your course.
… but wherever you are, someone has been there before and can be a great help to you as you climb your way forward. Here’s a few tips to consider when picking a mentor:
1 – DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
What job do you want? What kind of company do you want to work for? Do you want to be a leader of people/process or a role player? There’s no wrong answer and people of all types are needed.
In the early 2000s, during the Los Angeles Lakers three-peat championship streak, Robert Horry was the perennial role player. Barely averaging 8 points per game, he regular came in and sank three pointers to tie up or win games. While he wasn’t Shaq or Kobe, he was essential to the Laker’s ability to win games… he has a total of seven championship rings, more than both of those other players mentioned…
Knowing what kind of role you want to play will help you identify the person that can help you. If you want to be a CEO, you probably won’t pick a Sales Account Manager to emulate or show you the ropes. Likewise, if your goal is to have a long career in sales, you’re not going to pick someone from top leadership or an accounting function…
2 – FIGURE OUT WHO YOU TRULY ARE
I also write a lot about personality types (I’m particularly interested in feeling versus thinking functions). Are you a people person? I’m not talking extrovert or introvert, I’m talking emotion. Do you want to understand people? Do you want to lead a department? Do you want to be inspiring and the one that takes care of everyone? Are you a subjective person?
Take the test: https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test
Or do you want to focus on process? Do you want to help a company be lean and help plan out all of the operations? Do you want to be involved in numbers and making sure the balance sheet..well, balances? Are you an objective person?
Point being people often sway one way or the other. They either make decisions based on how they think it will make someone feel (the immediate needs of one is the most important thing)… or what makes logical sense (the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few). Using extreme cases, if you are more an emotional person but pick someone who is all about process, that person probably isn’t going to give you relevant feedback, nor understand exactly what it is you’re after. Vice versa, if you’re looking to implement a new process and pick someone who wants to just make people feel good all the time, you’re also going to be frustrated as that person is going to have a completely different point of view on your situation.
3 – BE CAUTIOUS OF LOUD MOUTHS
In a world that is increasingly louder by the minute, talk truly is cheap. Be weary of people who boast about their accomplishments. Many people align themselves with successful people and ride their coat tails. Personally, I think it’s fine to talk about accomplishments…but in the right situation, so just know what to look for.
For example, avoid the people who are around the water cooler talking about how they implemented this & that, how important they are, how great of a sales person they are, etc etc. That and the ones who go cubicle to cubicle talking about how busy they are rather than just doing their work. If you start to follow a person like this, it will often be too late by the time you’ve figured it out. You’ll have created a perception (and gained a new reputation) that you’re cut from a similar cloth.
Alternatively, if someone is in a 1-1 situation where they either have to give a presentation, sales pitch or talk about their qualifications, look for the detail. The people from above likely won’t have much to say, but the people who are tried and true will shine with detail.
Look for the person that is a little more on the humble side whose name seems to come up time and time again when certain projects/initiatives/work is mentioned. I’ve found the people who are the most successful are less likely to talk about their accomplishments because they know that 1) current success doesn’t guarantee continued success and 2) they are too busy working on their next goal to brag about their past.
4 – MAKE SURE THERE IS INTEREST ON BOTH ENDS
Just like the dating world, just because you’ve decided you like someone, doesn’t mean they will like you, nor does it mean they want you after them… and that’s okay. Sticking with the dating theme, there are plenty of other fish in the mentor sea..
It doesn’t have to be a formal request, either, but take the soft approach. Next time you see them (e-mails work great, too), compliment them on something they’ve done or are working on. Let them know you’d like to do similar things in your career and would love to work with them or get their thoughts/feedback sometime. Leave it that and see what happens. In many cases, I think you’ll find you’ve been recommended to be on a project team, asked to tag along on a sales call, invited to a meeting, etc.
When I was starting out, I selected someone I admired and just assumed he would teach me everything because I was so interested in him. He had someone else in mind he wanted to bring up through the ropes. I became more of an annoyance than anything and I caused a lot of frustration on both ends (This is not a knock on this person, either. He’s an incredibly polished Executive who I still learned a lot from). At the same time, there were other individuals that were willing to help (and in many cases did), but I focused instead on what I couldn’t have. I was the one in the wrong, but infatuation exists on all sorts of levels. Make sure to check yours at the door.
5 – KNOW THAT YOUR MENTOR CAN (and likely will) CHANGE
You will likely find yourself in different functions, industries and levels as your career progresses… and you’ll come across different people & experiences in all of those scenarios.
Chances are the person who helped grow you early in your career won’t be the person that helps you finish your career, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still work together or stay in touch. As you climb the ranks, you may find you’ve moved ahead of your current mentor or decide you will go a different route…and in some cases, you might just disagree with them. Still further, you might not have access to certain mentors until you reach certain levels, which will require some shifts. All of those are good things in the long run and the more open you can be with yourself and others, the more friends you’ll find you have. I think that makes being in business and having a career all the more worthwhile…
In conclusion, George Clooney said, “Where I come from, you figure out what you want to do in your 20’s, get good at it in your 30’s, make your mark in your 40’s and 50’s and give back whatever you can in your 60’s.” Don’t forget to be a mentor yourself when the time comes..
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