Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July
By Sarah J.F. Braley
FINDING A GOOD MENTOR
Who to turn to for valuable career advice, and how to make the
most of the relationship
WHO TO TARGET
First, set priorities. Determine what you want to improve in
yourself. Do you want to gain a skill? Increase knowledge? Change
or improve an attitude?
If you’re looking to gain a skill, you don’t need a mentor, you
need a coach somebody who does what you do, only better. A mentor
is someone who can help you as an individual, perhaps by improving
your communication skills or your conduct at meetings.
Look beyond your own department. Once you know
what you need, you can start evaluating who could help with some
part of it. Take a fresh look at numerous people past managers who
have helped you develop, colleagues in other departments and in
professional organizations, past teachers, vendors, even customers.
You can look for more than one mentor.
The people you target should have some natural empathy with you,
because the relationship will develop a degree of intimacy. Do not
look to your current supervisor. It’s very difficult for a direct
boss, who is responsible for your performance review, to be a good
Ask your peers for any recommendations. Consider approaching
someone who already mentors others.
Think about style. Skilled mentors act as
facilitators, but each one has a different modus operandi. Some use
a sort of skill-book method, while others are more exploratory.
Would you prefer someone with a methodical, left-brain approach or
a more creative, right-brain approach?
Once you’ve chosen a potential mentor, find out her preferred
communication style and use it to start the relationship. If she
sends out a lot of e-mail, send her an e-mail. If she prefers
face-to-face contact, go to her office.
Be informal and informational. Ask if you can
have a few minutes in order to get her opinion on a decision you
must make. Have a specific request. Don’t ask just to talk.
Be up front. Once you become comfortable and
feel that all-important empathy, go ahead and ask if she would be
interested in mentoring you. Then, over a cup of coffee, without
any commitment, discuss what mentoring means to both of you. Don’t
let any presuppositions get in the way. Mentoring is what both
parties make it.
DRIVE THE AGENDA
Before the first meeting, note three or four things you want out of
the relationship, being as precise as possible. It can be as
specific as, “I have an anger problem; can you help me work on
that?” to a broader goal like, “I want to be more promotable.”
Rely on your mentors in several ways, including
asking for advice, shadowing them at their jobs, practicing
role-playing, and requesting critiques of writing or other work
Make dates. Suggest times to get together, and
let your mentor say what works for her. Try to meet once or twice a
month, for 30 to 90 minutes, face-to-face if possible. Also agree
on how you should approach her outside of the set times. Would it
be all right if you sent an e-mail if an odd situation comes
Be patient. Results won’t come for about six
months, and most mentoring relationships last about nine to 15
months. Every quarter, meet to evaluate whether you are achieving
what you set out to achieve and whether your mentor wants to
continue working with you.
This article was compiled with input from two consultants:
Les McKeown, president and CEO of Tiburon, Calif.-based Deliver The
Promise (www.deliverthepromise.com), and Linda Phillips-Jones,
Ph.D., of the Grass Valley, Calif.-based Mentoring Group (www.mentoringgroup.com).
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