I shared last week how you can benefit from more than one mentorship relationship but where should these relationship come from and how do you reach out to potential mentors? I believe there are three mentorship relationships you should consider seeking out: experienced, peer and early career. All three will offer you different perspectives and opportunities for growth.
Identify: Keep a list of people you admire in your organization, company, or field. Is there someone who has a leadership style that resonates with you? Or someone who has accomplished goals that align with your goals? Usually, these people have more experience than you and are often higher up in an organization or are recognized broadly as experts or "gurus." Remember to consider people who have retired. They are a wealth of insight and knowledge and have the time and desire to share what they have learned; plus, they have unique networks of people across multiple fields and organizations that they will introduce to you.
Reach out: When you have a list of 3 – 5 people, narrow it down to one to reach out. You might have a mutual connection to make an introduction, or you can send them an email or LinkedIn message and let them know you admire them and why – the more specific, the better. Then offer to take them out to coffee to chat more on the subject, or if that isn't possible, ask for a 15-minute virtual meeting to talk further about the issue. You will be surprised how many people will agree to meet with you. We often assume that people at that level are too busy to bebothered by us, but we have found that usually is not the case. They are busy, and it may take a few reschedules due to their job demands, but they enjoy talking to engaging, interesting people and are always on the lookout for new talent.
Evaluate: At your first meeting, you'll have a better idea if this is a person you would like to ask to be a mentor. You might not want to take the next step, but you can let them know you appreciate their time and would love to reconnect from time to time to catch up on what's new in the subject you have discussed. Remember that your mentor is giving you valuable insight and advice and access to their network, which can open doors and opportunities that you couldn't do without them. Be generous with what you also have to offer. Your mentor might want to know your perspective on the company culture, your ideas on a new project, or what is new in a specific field of study.
Identify: The next type of mentor is a peer mentor. It is essential to have people on your "team" who are at the same approximate level, inside your organization or company and externally. You can have several peer mentors; this team will be your foundation as you all develop and progress. It's important to be clear about your intention for peer mentoring. You will likely become friends, but the overriding expectation is that you mutually share insights, information, opportunities and direct feedback on your performance or behaviors. You will support each other in attaining your goals and make time todo it. It's also important to select a diverse group of peer mentors – the point of all this is to have broad perspectives and insights, not to choose people who always agree with you or have a background like yours.
Reach out: Keep a list of people you interact with and admire and appreciate their perspectives. When you have a list of 5 – 8 people, narrow it down to three people and reach out to them individually for a cup of coffee, happy hour afterwork, or a virtual meeting if in-person doesn't work. Explain the concept of peer-mentoring and why you are interested in having a peer-mentoring relationship with them and see if they are interested. If they are interested (and most likely will be), have a few topics you want to discuss next time you meet. This introduction will get the process going, and moving forward, you will share the responsibility to set agendas or topics. This relationship isn't as formal as mentorship with an experienced mentor. You will find that you call your peer mentor when you have a situation you want their opinion or help.
Evaluate: Keep your list going of people you admire and appreciate and expand your peer-mentor group over time. There isn't a limit on this group, but it shouldn't be so large that you can't keep up nurturing the relationships. Evaluate these relationships over time and identify when you have helped each other along the way. My best example of a peer mentor success story is when I facilitated a meeting with people higher up in the organization. The project was one I was responsible for, and I needed their approval to proceed. Traditionally, people of a higher rank sat at the conference room table, while people of a lower levels at around the room's edges in chairs. I sat at the edge of the room, but when talking, I stood at the front of the room. Overall, the meeting went well, but when it was over, my colleague (peer-mentor) came up to me and said, "Next time, sit at the table." It hit me like a ton of bricks – of course, I should have been at the table – but I didn't even think about it. I never made that mistake again, thanks to my peer mentor.
Early Career Mentor
Identify: The next type of mentor is early or new in their career. These people don't have the career experience or insight you have. Still, they have the most current knowledge of new practices, technologies, and emerging cultures – and they are probably more innovative than you and not constrained by standard accepted practices that may have become counterproductive.
Reach out: Once again, keep a list of people you interact with who are early in their career, asking questions, volunteering, and doing more than expected. Select one and have a meeting, explaining that you are looking for someone early in their career to be your mentor to learn about what is new in the field, what early career people are interested in regarding their jobs, etc. To reciprocate, you will be their mentor if they are interested. This is a reciprocal mentor relationship, like peer mentoring. Until they learn the process, you will set the agendas and schedule on a cadence that makes sense for both of you. Monthly or every other month for an hour is adequate. Allow 30 minutes for you to talk and 30 minutes for your mentee to discuss their issues or ask questions. After the first few meetings, you can set up a process where you both share your agenda items a week in advance to prepare properly. This process also will support them in learning how to be a good mentor and mentee as they advance in their career.
Evaluate: I realized the importance of having an early career mentor when a new hire approached me to be her mentor. I agreed, but soon I was learning more from her than I thought she gained from me! She opened up a whole new ecosystem of the newly hired and introduced me to innovative, excited employees with great ideas to improve the workplace. I was happy to help them, and they kept me updated on new trends, ideas and events. There isn't a limit on the number of mentors you have, but you must manage and nurture these relationships. It's worth the time and energy invested and will open up career growth in ways you might not imagine today. Plus, it is a positive way to broaden your perspectives and friendships.
Staying on track with mentor relationships We recommend using the Seasons Leadership Relationship Matrix to help you manage contact with your mentors. We suggest that 2 – 4 mentors are suitable if you are on a monthly or every other month meeting cadence. You could manage 1 or 2 more if you have a 6-month meeting rhythm. If it ever becomes a burden to meet with your mentors – you have too many! The mentor process should always be a positive experience for both parties. Let us know your experience with finding a mentor or ideas you have to enhance the mentor/mentee relationship.