A mentor can provide a huge advantage to any business person, especially a new manager or supervisor. Fortunately, you’re not out of luck if your organization doesn’t automatically set you up with one. We had the opportunity to talk with Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half Management Resources. He provided some great insight and advice about both the benefits and the logistics of getting an informal mentor.
Why should a new manager or new supervisor want a mentor?
Paul McDonald: A good mentor provides a valuable viewpoint. They’ve already faced pitfalls and road blocks and can teach their mentees how to navigate those challenges to success. They can also be the voice of reason and experience. Their advice allows you to anticipate obstacles.
Assuming there is no formal mentorship program, how does a person find one? And how should he or she approach the potential mentor about it?
McDonald: Well, you have two choices when seeking an informal mentor: You can find one internally at your organization or externally through leadership and trade groups.
If you go the internal route, develop relationships with bosses or peers with more experience. Before you approach a potential mentor, though, I would float the idea by your direct supervisor. Ask “What’s the stance within the organization regarding mentorship programs?” If the supervisor asks why you’re asking, emphasize that you’re interested in being the best employee you can be. Ask for permission. Your supervisor might even have recommendations.
If you want to find a mentor externally, look into your professional network: leadership groups, trade organizations, professional groups and so on. Look for people with whom you have pre-existing relationships.
What can one reasonably expect from a mentor?
McDonald: Guidelines should come out of the initial meeting. Clarify what you’re looking for and be direct and upfront. It can be as simple as meeting for coffee once a month for an hour. Or maybe you want to be able to call the mentor once or twice a month with a business-related question. Of course, respect the person’s time. Busy leaders admire efficiency, and by presenting your proposal that succinct way, you could attract a mentor.
How does one make the most of a mentor/mentee relationship?
McDonald: Respect their time. Keep it professional. Be solutions-oriented. Present the issue you’re facing: “This is what I’m thinking. Am I on the right track? Tell me what you’re thinking.” Remember that you don’t have to be best friends. Keep it business-related and professional.
How can a mentee give back to their mentor?
McDonald: A mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way street. The return for the mentor is a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction. Plus, it keeps the mentor sharp. He might not have had a particular problem in a while, so discussing it allows him to keep his business problem-solving tools sharp.
Much thanks to Paul for answering my questions! You can find out more about Robert Half Management Resources on their website.
[Photo credit: www.flickr.com/jlfc25.]