Finding a mentor and creating results together is challenging. Yet finding the right mentor, at the right time, can often make or break a career change, advancement within a company, or growth of a startup venture.
Through the influence of mentors during my early years, I developed my professional career in technology and product management. Years later, I had the opportunity to give back by mentoring product managers, software engineers, students seeking technology and entrepreneurship as a profession, and numerous startup founders. Along the way, I learned a few tips and tricks about how to find mentors and maximize professional relationships using a 360 approach.
Why Do I Need a Mentor?
Mentors are the trusted advisers who have been in your shoes. They point the way when you can’t see past the fog and call out blind spots when you’re moving too fast around a curve. No matter who you are and what profession you’re in, you’ve likely benefited from someone who acted as a mentor.
From a hiring manager who helps you move into the right role versus the one you thought you wanted, to an investor sharing how your idea is great but poorly timed, to your parent who suggests you might spend more time learning computers versus focusing on attaining the next degree, all of these are mentors who not only act as guides but impact directions and potential outcomes your life can take.
Great mentors help others in three key ways:
- Mentors help you focus
- Mentors challenge you to think creatively
- Mentors guide you to push past your comfort zone
Mentors are not simply advice-givers, however. There is more nuance to the relationship, which we’ll dive into. All of us need mentors at one point or another during our lives and careers, and the type of mentorship we need varies based on a variety of factors.
Types of Mentorship
I know many of us think of a mentor as a coach or guide and typically seek mentorship in support of our career development. The truth is, a mentor can be anyone who supports us, believes in us, and guides us towards what we are seeking. My mentors have included my father, women in tech, and managers encouraging pursuit in different areas of my career.
Which type of mentorship resonates the most for you when looking at the list below?
- Corporate Mentorship
- Teacher-Student Mentorship
- Industry or Role-based Mentorship
- Startup Mentorship
- Mentorship by Example
The type of mentorship you choose determines the level of formality, duration, intended outcomes, and support and/or training available.
What Makes for Great Mentorship?
One obvious requirement for mentorship is trust. But how exactly is trust established between two people who may not know each other? If you’ve ever been part of a professional network that paired you with a mentor, you may recall just how vulnerable it feels to share your challenges with a complete stranger.
Luckily, there are some basic ingredients that can be acquired quickly to determine if the pairing is a good fit.
Out of the gate, feeling in sync with one another is crucial. Often, you can easily find this out within the first 15 minutes of a conversation. If you’re able to understand each other’s ideas and articulate what you’re looking to get out of the relationship, you can commit to seeing how each of you might benefit.
Rules of Engagement
Creating a communication plan for how the mentorship will work is the next step. How often you talk, the expectation for each session, and an agreed approach for how you communicate if things go off track are all good areas to discuss upfront. While your mentorship need not be totally formal, discussing how you’ll handle common occurrences is a good idea so that you set the mentorship up for success.
Saying you’re going to do something and not doing it is something that happens to all of us at one point or another. Mentorship asks that you are diligent about trying to avoid over-promising and under-delivering. Acknowledging missed dates, deliverables, or areas of agreed-upon focus that didn’t happen… that is what we’re shooting for here.
Although it can be uncomfortable, addressing a lack of accountability often teaches the other person how important it is for them to value their work. If the mentorship is aligned, bringing up the issue will take the relationship’s intimacy much further.
Measure of Progress
Years ago I was a mentor in a small cohort of product professionals. Each mentor was paired with a mentee seeking to achieve specific objectives in his or her career as a product manager. Over the course of 6 months, my mentee and I held weekly 1:1 sessions to work through specific career challenges.
What made this a stand-out mentorship program was not only having a plan of what we intended to achieve together, and a method to track our progress, but the ability to reach out to other mentors in the program for additional support. My mentee and I still refer to this program as a stand-out experience for both of us.
Colleagues are a wonderful thing — but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.
Junot Diaz, Professor at MIT
Using a 360 Approach
Great mentorships don’t just happen and remarkable ones are hard to come by. In fact, 76% of working professionals believe that a mentor is important to growth yet more than 54% do not have such a relationship.
For those that do engage in structured mentorship programs, many are limited in terms of outcomes. Let’s face it – it’s tough to be completely transparent with members of the same organization or social circle.
That’s why we developed a program using a 360 approach that supports working professionals:
Share Knowledge Across Roles
Effective collaboration means understanding the roles of other “players” on the team and how to work together to “score.”
Share Knowledge Across Industries
Staying relevant in the future of work means being able to move across industries and contribute value with little onboarding time.
Share What Levers to Pull to Reach Next Stage of Career
Whether they are early career, mid-career, or about to make a career shift, knowing how to move into the next stage of their career is critical.
Collaborate on Projects that Drive Innovation
The opportunities to build profitable ideas that were previously not possible are massive. Identifying and developing these new ideas together through curated “innovation squads” leads to amazing outcomes:
- Adoption of a growth mindset; accepting change while taking charge
- Continuous learning; incorporating hard and soft skills for real-world application
- Developing a sense of purpose and meaning through reflection, mindfulness, and cultivation of aligned relationships
- Creating massive opportunities for the organization
If the recent past has taught us anything, it’s that people need connection. This isn’t a location-based problem but a universal need.
What are you doing to foster opportunities to connect, collaborate, and grow using mentorship as a guiding principle?