Everyone has a Mentor but Us Chickens
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a mentor? People throw out, ‘my mentor this’ and ‘my mentor that’ like mentors are just laying around and all you had to do was pick one up.
I felt like having a mentor would be helpful but how do you get one?
Is there a Mentor section between the pet products and bathroom essentials sections at Walmart? Or maybe a MentorMatch.com?
To me, getting a mentor seemed like a game that other people naturally knew how to play and I was clueless. What were the rules? How do you play?
When I was a kid we were always casting about for something interesting to amuse ourselves and we played games: old games and new games we made up ourselves. I am a member of Generation D, that is to say my cohorts and I were told to go outside and play and to not come back until it got Dark — and not a minute later. One day when I was nine or so, my friend, Cynthia, said she had a fun new game for us to play. She was ‘It.’ She had all six of us line up against a parked car. Then she picked Suzy. She bade Suzy to run with her behind the garage. A few minutes later Suzy and Cynthia ran back to the group, announcing that Suzy was now ‘It’ and she got to pick the next person. Suzy picked me and all three of us ran. When we got behind the garage, Suzy slapped me across the face. “Don’t be mad!” Suzy said. “You get to pick the next person!”
Maybe the Mentor game worked like Cynthia’s game. Did I have to stand with the group and wait to get picked? Would someone pick me and slap me? Should I be the one picking and slapping?
I had another concern, too. I was chicken. Would someone who was good enough to be a mentor want me as a mentee? It seemed like a secret, mysterious ritual like the Masons: Invitation only.
Not having a mentor made me feel like I was not just missing out, I worried that I simply wasn’t mentor worthy.
Even if I could find a mentor, how did I sign one up? Should I update my LinkedIn profile? Mentor Wanted. Apply Here.
Eventually, the mentor thing worked for me. In case the mentor thing is not happening for you — and you think it would benefit you personally or professionally — I’ve created a quick Guide to Getting a Mentor as a starting point.
Quick Guide to Getting a Mentor
Should you seek a mentor?
What does a mentor do?
A mentor is available to chat with you occasionally. You should be able to talk with her about a project, a potential board position, your next career move. She should listen and offer her perspective and a few ideas you would not have thought of by yourself. She should be willing to make introductions to other people who can help you. She has your back.
How to identify a potential Mentor
Don’t worry too much about picking a specific person. Just be open to asking people with more experience for their input. It helps if you like the person too. Some people are natural teachers. Natural teachers are interested in helping other people learn and grow.
I’m female and most of my mentors over time have been women. It’s not necessary to be same-sex. Don’t overlook potential mentor relationships due to differences. Differences can make the relationship more valuable. But be sure not to overlook women as potential mentors. Women in business and in the community may have faced obstacles that a male in a similar position may not have encountered.
How to test the waters with a potential Mentor
Start with a question, email, text or in person is fine.
“I have a challenge and I wondered if you could help me.”
“Do you have 15 minutes for a quick chat? I have something [personal / professional / a project] I’m working on? I’d like to run something by you and get your reaction.”
Build up a Bank of Conversations
Take your time and over a year or so, build up a history of conversations with your Mentor candidate, three or four should be adequate. A conversation focused on helping you more than once a quarter may be overkill. Respect your mentor’s time.
Try This: Refer to current relationship as a mentor relationship
Now, if it Looks like she is full-on Mentor material — Slap Your Mentor
I’m just kidding. Don’t slap your potential mentor. But I do use a stealth move like Cynthia’s game. If I really do respect her as a mentor and if she has been willing to have several conversations over time, here’s my stealth move that has worked every time. I make it a point to introduce her as my mentor in a group or networking situation.
Here’s how it works: I’m standing talking to someone I know and my ‘mentor’ walks up. I will say, “Bill, I’d like you to meet Jane. Jane has helped me with so many things, she is like a mentor to me.” See what I did there?
Or you can say at the end of a conversation, “You have helped me so much. You’ve been like a mentor to me.”
I had someone mention me in a LinkedIn video and she said “One of my mentors, Orange Doorhinge helped me…”
It would feel ridiculous to both parties if you were to go down on your knee and ask, “Will you by my Mentor?” But you can work around it by referring to the relationship as a mentor-like relationship. That can help you solidify the relationship in your mind and in the mind of this mentor-person for whom you have so much respect. It labels it and makes it real.
Popping the Question
That doesn’t mean you can’t just pop the question, given the right circumstances.
My college-age daughter, Mini Orange, has recently been interning at a small company, reporting to the marketing leader. As the internship was coming to a close, they met to debrief the experience. The Marketing Leader and Mini Orange covered the usual stuff, what was going well and what could be going better. Toward the end, Marketing Leader wanted to know: Did Mini Orange have an ‘ask?’ This is how amazing and smart Mini Orange is. She piped right up and asked if Marketing Leader would be a mentor to her as she finishes up her course work and begins her career? According to my daughter, Marketing Leader loved this ask. Well played, Mini Orange!