As you’re reading this, I’ve recently arrived in Cyprus (an island country in the Mediterranean), for a few weeks of exploring, culture, adventure, food and relaxation. While I will definitely be enjoying downtime and a “real vacation”, I know your life doesn’t stop. And I want to support you as you make plans to make 2017 the best year ever!
Last week, I shared with you one of the biggest reasons for my success – having mentors! (If you missed it, you can find it here).
In honour of January being Mentorship Month, I’ve created a 3-part Get-A-Mentor Mini-Series ALL about mentoring.
I believe in your right to have a meaningful career while having a life you love – and mentors have played a big part of creating both in my life. I know they can have an incredible impact for you.
As you’re navigating the mentorship waters, I’ll share with you:
1. Why you would want a mentor (check out last week’s newsletter here!)
2. How to connect with a mentor: what to do before you get one, where to look and how to ask someone to be your mentor (keep reading!)
3. What’s essential for mentorship success: How to structure your relationship, make the most of having a mentorand other tips and FAQ to rock it with your mentor.
So… how should you go about getting and connecting with a mentor? My advice starts with a metaphor.
The most common mistake I see, is that once someone has been told they need a mentor, they start aimlessly wandering, searching for a mentor.
Have you ever read the children’s book “Are you my mother?”
It’s a book about a little bird who hatches while his mother has gone to get food. The book chronicles the little bird’s adventures trying to find his mother. He explores the world, asking every animal he encounters “are you my mother?”
This little bird asks a dog “are you my mother” and a cat “are you my mother”? Eventually, the baby bird is reunited with his mother. It’s a cute story about a naive and heart-warming baby bird. (No, the cuteness of this metaphor does not extend to grown professionals).
I’ve have been to countless events where professionals run around to other seasoned, experienced professionals like the little bird from “Are you my mother?” Running around like a chicken with their head cut off, they ask “are you mentor?”
Desperate to find the perfect mentor at the event, these people run around asking anyone and everyone to be their mentor.
Before you ask anyone else if they’re your mentor, and if they will be your mentor, you need to read this.
Before you get a mentor:
1. Know what’s next for you in your career and why a mentor would help you get there. Is there a particular change you want to make? A transition you’re about to enter? A challenge you want to take on but looking for extra support with?
2. Decide first what you want in a mentor. What skills or experience are important to you in this stage of your business or career?
3. Never choose someone solely because they have a fancy title, or because they do a job that you want to do. Instead, I think the best mentors and relationships (because that’s what it is - a relationship) comes from having a deep appreciation for the person and wanting to learn from them as a human.
4. Choose a mentor you would be happy to be like. The old adage “never take advice from someone you wouldn’t trade places with” comes to mind. Look at their life – both the “how” they’ve created it AND the “what”. If you don’t like the way they treat people but you love that they’ve made it to be the first female VP of a company, they probably aren’t a great fit for you. If you know you wouldn’t want to lead like he/she does, you don’t want to learn from them either.
5. Know what you want to learn from your mentor and why you think they’re the best person you would learn from. Your mentor should be someone who inspires you.
6. Don’t go into a mentoring relationship expecting to get a job or any other favour like that. Go into the relationship for the relationship. If what you want is a job or a favour, find a different way to get it.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can start looking for your mentor.
So, where can you find a mentor? How do you find “the one”?
Depending on what you want to learn, this might vary. For example, if you want to progress within your current company or industry, that’s probably a great place to start. If you have a different career path or area in the company you want to work in, that might be a good starting place.
Technology has made virtually anyone in the world accessible so while it’s great to start local, you can also think global. Mentorship meetings can – and do- take place in person, on Skype or over the phone every day.
Some ideas to find mentors include:
- Within your own department (experts, leaders)
- In other parts of your company
- At industry events with professionals and leaders from other organizations
- At general networking events for your city, your profession, or even your alma mater
- Asking friends or colleagues if they know someone that would be a great fit
- Searching LinkedIn, Meetup, and other online spaces relevant to what you’re looking for
While I believe having a personal connection to your mentor is critical, formal mentorship programs can also be incredible. I found my most recent mentor when I moved to Vancouver and was too new to the city to know people. Here are some places you can find formal networking programs:
- Within your company. Lots of organizations are starting to create programs to develop their employees.
- Look for mentor-matching in community organizations and networking groups. I've done some research to get you started:
- In Vancouver, Young Women in Business has a fantastic program (it's the one I found my last mentor through!).
- For entrepreneurs in Vancouver, the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs has a mentorship program.
- British Columbia-based Women's Enterprise Centre also has a matching program.
- Women in Leadership has a program that runs April to November in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Edmonton. You can find
- Check with any professional or accreditation organizations. A lot of these groups like to connect their members and mentoring is a great way for knowledge to be transferred within a profession.
- Do some research - a quick google search of mentoring in your community might surprise you!
From your search, create a short list of 3-5 people you would love to have as a mentor. Prioritize… and get ready to start asking.
Now – the big moment: how to ask someone to be your mentor. There’s still no app for that and you can’t just swipe right (although wouldn’t THAT be an interesting idea?! You heard it here first…). The right “moment” to ask might come in person, over the phone or through email.
Here’s my advice on “popping the question” and asking someone to be your mentor:
- If you don’t know them (cold-calling mentors), introduce yourself first. Tell them who you are, what you do, and where you’re at with your career or business. Feel free to sprinkle in things you have in common and personal interests – after all, you’re a real human!
- Infuse some praise in your request. Make him or her feel good. Not in a fakey-fake way, but because he or she IS amazing! (Duh, otherwise you wouldn’t want them as a mentor!). Tell him or her what you think of them because you believe it and because you also want them to know they’re valued and doing great things. Chances are, he or she probably doesn’t hear it enough.
- Remember my tip to pick someone you would be happy to be like? Tap into THAT! What is it about that person that’s amazing? Get a solid understanding of what you think you could learn from him or her and share this with them. You don’t have to know it all or have a full grasp of the “capacity” or what it would look like. In fact, it’s probably impossible to know everything you’ll learn in a great mentorship relationship, even while you’re in it. BUT you can go in to your conversation with him or her by having a few things you believe you could learn from them.
- Share what you’re looking for at this stage of your career and life. Be clear on how he or she can help you and what you are looking for from them. Sharesome of the questions you have or decisions you would appreciate advice onbefore making.
- If you don’t know the person, show you’ve done some research and know a little about them. Tell them you enjoyed attending a presentation they recently gave, read an interview about them, or enjoyed a blog post they wrote.
- Add value. Share an article or event they might be interested in based on what you know about them. If you find out they’re a vegetarian, send a list of your favourite veggie restaurants in their area. Make it personal – and be ready to give back!
Here’s an example of what you might say:
“Allyson, I think you are an amazing leader. I love the way you engage with your team, and how you are able to inspire them.
You do such a great job of giving everyone creative freedom and allowing them to be themselves, while still directing the team to successfully accomplish the goals you set out. You also seem like an awesome person - you obviously have other interesting things going on outside of work.
I would love to learn how you do this. I’m at a point in my career where it’s an important skill for me to be able to empower my team while still holding the focus on the organization’s important goals. I’d also appreciate learning from you how you maintain a life full of exciting and diverse experiences outside of your work.
Would you be open to a mentoring relationship? I know your time is valuable and I would soak up every moment I got with you.”
Obviously I made this up and you should make it your own but, you get the point. Narrow down on one or two things you know you could learn from them, how they can help you and make sure you throw in some sweet, sweet sugar. And, you’ll definitely want to introduce yourself and tweak it for “cold-calling” a mentor.
There. That was the hard part.
And hopefully, they come back with a resounding “YES! I’ll be your mentor”.
But what if they don’t?
You need to be ok with a “no”. It’s hard for women and men at the top. They have a lot of people asking them to be mentors. Often, people come to them simply because of their position and/or title, without even knowing what they want from them or who they really are.
One of my best friends is a manager at a large, male-dominated company and spoke at a recent event targeting female leaders in the organization.
The day of the event, she had dozens (yes, dozens!) of women ask her to mentor them.
By the end the week following the event, she had 7 formal requests to be a mentor.
It’s clear that women in particular are desperate for support, guidance and mentorship.
Be aware of the pull this creates on leaders. Do everything you can to make your request heartfelt, personal, tangible and confident. And if you still don’t get them as a mentor, that’s ok - think of all the other people asking and know it has nothing to do with you. You will find someone else who is awesome and fits what you’re looking for.
If your request doesn’t work out:
- Accept it graciously. Thank them for their time and honest, and wish them all the best. If it feels right, ask them if you can keep in touch. You never know when their schedule may free up or the right door opens and you can build a relationship.
- Keep reaching out and looking for a mentor. It’s a big, big world out there with many amazing people. Reach out to the next person on your list.
- Depending on the organization and the person, it could be appropriate for you to offer to volunteer to work with them on a specific initiative, project, cause, or event. It can be a chance to build a relationship with the person and add value first. It demonstrates your commitment to getting engaged with the work they’re doing and prove you’re a superstar with rejection. It also allows them to get to know you and plants the seed that you are serious! Use your gut on this. For example:
- If you know the person is on a non-profit board and you care about the cause, get involved.
- If the person is leading an initiative in your company and could use your expertise, talk to your boss about lending a hand.
- Don’t lower your expectations. For all the stories I hear about executives and leaders being inundated with requests for mentoring, there are also stories of isolation. In some cases, people are too intimiated to reach out to people so “high up” that no-one asks them. Be the person who asks, and you may just be the person who gets!
If you’re serious about getting a mentor, I have a challenge for you.
- Decide what’s next for you and why a mentor would help you get there
- Determine what you want in a mentor
- Shortlist 3-5 mentors you’d be happy to emulate and learn from
- Reach out to at least one potential mentor
Next week, I’ll share what’s essential for mentorship success. You’ll find out how to structure your relationship, make the most of having a mentorand other tips and FAQ to rock it with your mentor.
Don’t be the little bird. Be strategic. Look for "the one". And when you're ready, pop the question and ask “are you my mentor”?
PS. If you're not already signed up for my newsletter, follow this link to make sure you don't miss out on Part 3 of my Get-A-Mentor Mini-Series. Know someone looking for a mentor? Share this with them. Got stories of great mentors and advice to get the most out of the experience? Join the conversation on my blog and social media about mentorship.
PPS. If you're in Vancouver, check out Lean In Vancouver's event Monday, January 30th. Look forward to an inspiring and influential line up of panelists ready to discuss how mentorship can advance your career.
The 360 degree networking session will also give you the opportunity to find a potential mentor and/or someone to mentor.
Lean In, get involved and grab your tickets before they're gone! https://leaninvancouver.eventbrite.com