A mentorship can help advance your professional goals, but the first step is to find a mentor who suits you. Here are some common mentorship roles and questions to ask before choosing a mentor.
Many people might cross their fingers and hope for the best when they go looking for a mentor. But hope and luck shouldn’t be a strategy for professional growth.
The truth is not all mentors are the same because not all relationships are the same. Don’t get locked into thinking a mentor is an all-knowing being who sits at the top of a mountain sharing morsels of wisdom. Mentors can take many different shapes and forms and play many different roles in your career. Here are a few to consider:
Coach. Like a sports team, this individual knows the rules and has a good sense of the skills and attitude needed from the entire team to succeed. She gives regular feedback on skills and works to help you focus your abilities. Coaches are good at refining skills and providing regular—and sometimes tough—feedback to help challenge your professional growth.
Connector. This person seems to know almost everyone. He has both deep relationships and wide connections. It may feel like the connector has volunteered or worked in every area of the organization and knows thought leaders. This person walks into a room and remembers everyone’s names—mixing, mingling, and networking are the connector’s superpowers.
Resource partner. This person loves information. She is the person who reads voraciously and shares models, ideas, and research from books, articles, podcasts, and websites. The resource partner is deeply curious and always on the lookout for new information to strengthen and transform you, your team, and your organization.
Agent. This person loves to connect people to the right opportunities. Once you share your professional development (PD) plan with the agent, he will recommend specific skill- and knowledge-building opportunities, connections to initiate, and conferences to attend. The agent should know your skills and interests to get you engaged and moving. He will help advance your career by advocating for you. Everyone needs a cheerleader and advancer, and the agent will do this well for you.
Develop the Mentoring Relationship
Once you determine the type of mentor who would suit you best, to maximize her talents and perspectives, start your PD plan so she can offer quick and easy feedback. The plan doesn’t have to be formal, but it should be structured enough to let the mentor know how you might spend your time and conversations together. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Where will I be in five years? Look at the growth of your profession and organization. Get in line with your association’s strategic priorities and build your wish list of professional skills and available opportunities ahead. Ask what types of continuing education and formal coursework are supported in the company to both build your personal skills and strengthen your association. Remain current and enthusiastic and make yourself indispensable.
What do my colleagues think of me? Asking for consistent feedback is important. Talk to supervisors, colleagues, and volunteers, and find out what they think of your work. If you have taken any leadership- or personal-development profiles, what are you discovering about your skillsets? Is there anything that should be honed? What are some signature strengths that add value to your role and organization? Be sure to share this information with your mentor, and focus your PD plan around strengths and weaknesses.
Where is my resource base? Consider your social networks and create a list of people who can support you in your PD efforts. Who are some loose connections (e.g., people you might not know well but have connected with at a conference or on LinkedIn)? How can those connections be strengthened? What might you learn from some of those individuals?
Remember you do not need one all-knowing mentor. You can have several mentors who play different roles for your PD plan. Colleagues have different amounts of time and energy to devote to others. Know how much time you want from your mentors and the role you would like them to play in your professional growth.
Written for the American Society of Association Executives. The link to the article for members is: https://www.asaecenter.org/resources/articles/an_plus/2019/february/how-to-find-the-right-mentor-match
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