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How to Find a Mentor

By Matt Collins

In two previous blogs I have discussed the benefits of mentoring and the benefits of having a mentor. Here I want to talk about the all-too-common challenge of finding a mentor.

If you've ever had a mentor, or even known someone who has, you’ve seen how beneficial a mentoring relationship can be. Yet, for those of us without one, finding a mentor can seem like a daunting task.

Let’s examine why.

How to Find a MentorFirst, you have to determine what kind of mentor you need. A smart way to approach this is by diagnosing your strengths and growth areas and then creating a prioritized list of development goals.

Next, you have to find someone with the right combination of experience and skills to give you expert guidance in those areas. Then you have to pitch them the idea of mentoring you with an explanation of what would make you a good mentee, why they're the perfect fit to mentor you, and some combination of flattery and pleading designed to attain their agreement.

Finally, you wait for their reply with crossed fingers (and near-crippling anxiety that they'll reject you).

Right?

Well, not always.

While the process outlined above is one way to get a mentor, it turns out finding a mentor can sometimes be a lot simpler (and less anxiety-inducing).

Common myths about mentors

Here are some of the common misconceptions about mentorships that makes the process of finding a mentor seem a lot more challenging than it needs to be:

Mentoring must be formal. Actually, it doesn't have to be. If there is someone you already look up to, aspire to be like, and spend time with, they may already be filling the role of a mentor, as you observe and emulate them. To take this idea even further, mentoring expert Ellen Ensher suggests that Inspirational Mentors—people who you admire, research, and follow online but don't know personally—can offer guidance, as well as provide ideas for similar people within your network who could act as a mentor.

Mentoring is one-on-one. Not always. Just as it's helpful to have more than one mentor, it can also be useful to engage in group mentoring, such as a small peer networking group or a larger group of individuals all working together toward common goals.

My mentor should be a [fill in the blank]. If you aspire to be an executive, writer, entrepreneur, you name it, having a mentor who has “been there, done that” is great. But people at the top of your chosen field aren’t the only ones who can provide a helpful perspective. In fact, sometimes it's the mentor from a completely different background who can help you the most.

Your mentor also doesn't have to be someone higher up the food chain than you, nor do they have to be within the same industry, live near you, or share common interests. To paraphrase Condoleezza Rice, if you wait for a mentor who is just like you, you may always be waiting.

Finding your next mentor

When you remove these unnecessary expectations, finding a mentor becomes much easier. Here are some of the many ways to go about identifying your next mentor:

  1. Check with your organization's learning and development team. Many companies (about three in four Fortune 500 companies) have mentoring programs in place, and even if they don't, someone from your L&D team will likely help you think through who within your company you could ask.
  2. Reach out on social media. If someone within your network frequently publishes updates that you find educational and relevant to your goals, chances are they would make a good mentor to you.
  3. Think about who you regularly go to for advice. Those you reach out to now may already be filling the role of an informal mentor, making for an easy transition to something more structured.
  4. Start a group yourself. If you know of peers who share your goals or struggle with the same challenges, ask them if they'd be interested in forming a peer mentoring group.
  5. Leverage tools designed for the purpose. Check out resources such as Find A Mentor (a free site that helps match willing mentors to mentees).
  6. Target people who have had mentors themselves. Because they understand the value of mentoring, they may be more willing to accept mentees of their own. In fact, a DDI study showed that 74 percent of women who mentor do so in part because they benefited from their own mentorship experience.

Make it happen!

Once you've identified the people you'd like to pursue as mentors, it's important to make the request in an appropriate and compelling manner. Be sure to clearly state why you chose them and what your goals are. Most importantly, ask what would make it work well for them. If you're open-minded with your expectations, I'm confident you can have a new mentor lined up in no time.

For more on mentoring, click on the links throughout this article or view my posts on why you should mentor and why you need a mentor. You can also keep an eye out for my upcoming post on how to navigate a successful mentoring relationship.

Matt Collins is a client manager who collaborates with organizations to select, develop, and promote exceptional leaders. As an adventure-seeker, Matt is always eager to tackle new projects at work, as well as new activities outside of work that recently include archery tag and parkour. What should Matt try next? Send your recommendations to matt.collins@ddiworld.com.

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Posted: 09 Aug, 2017,

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