The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you find a mentor?” is written by Renee McInnes, CEO of Norwell VNA and Hospice.
My first mentor was not anyone I would’ve expected: He was a consultant advising me on the launch of my startup private pay homecare company. We disagreed constantly about execution and management. Our daily phone calls for the most part sounded like arguments. He was very straightforward and honest about my weaknesses and strengths. Eventually, I realized that his directness was pulling me out of my comfort zone.
I most admired my mentor’s honesty, integrity, and ethics, and wanted to emulate these qualities in the workplace. That’s what should come first when finding a mentor: You must be clear about what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship. Know the areas where you need to grow, and identify how your mentor can help you in them. Consider which industry you want to learn more about, and determine whether your mentor can deepen your knowledge of an existing field or teach you more about an area in which you’re less knowledgeable.
Also think about whether you want someone who is currently in a position to which you aspire. Do you want a person who can take you under their wing and show you the ropes? Or, rather someone who can offer you consultation and advice? Both options can work, depending upon the situation. Learning on the job from a mentor can certainly help with operational aspects of your position. But opting instead for consultation and advice allows you to develop your own leadership style and techniques.
Once you’ve determined what type of mentor you want, find the best people who meet those specifications. Come up with a shortlist of people you’d like to target, then do your research on them. See if you can find their bios online, look for articles written about or by them, and check out their LinkedIn or other business profiles. Know as much as you can about the person and their industry. It’s helpful to take the time to do this research; it will show them that you are invested in not just finding any mentor, but the right one for you.
In researching potential mentors, try to find out if they had mentors or were mentors, and if so, what they gained from that relationship. The best mentors have generally had their own great mentor who moved them to another level in their career. Such was the case for a close colleague of mine who said that having a mentor helped him in turn to be a mentor who is thoughtful and strategic, able to guide his mentees out of their comfort zones. We all need someone to identify our strengths and push us to the next step with no fear.
Now that you’ve identified your prospect, how do you request their mentorship? Start by sending a sincere email explaining how you arrived at selecting them as a potential mentor. Explain why you feel that they are the right fit for you and what your goals are for the mentoring process. What is it about them that prompted you to even ask? Give them a bio on yourself and what you hope to achieve by having their support. If they’re interested, you can follow up by asking what kind of time and responsibility commitment they could accept.
Once you’ve found a mentor, it’s important let them know that you’re utilizing their advice. A good mentor needs to feel useful and appreciated. It’s also important to honor the mentor’s availability. So be clear with them about your needs and expectations, and understand what they expect of you in return. This is not a relationship based on desperation or neediness, but on mutual respect. Reassure your mentor of your own success by notifying them about your improved attitude at work and your accomplishments.
I recently called a mentor to tell him about the loneliness I feel at the top, due to the difficult decisions I have to make as a CEO and realization that the message and culture I’m trying to create may not resonate with everyone. She was so excited that I brought this information forward, as she was waiting for me to come to this conclusion myself.
We all need a mentor to keep ourselves in check. And it doesn’t just benefit you. Successful mentors are often excited to share your progress with others. Remember your mentoring experience, and perhaps later on you can pay it forward.