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Whether we realize it or not, our lives are impacted by the people we meet. Their fingerprints are all over the people we are and who we hope to become. Just take a moment and reflect on everyone in your life who has influenced you. The grandparents, parents, teachers, and colleagues. These people can impart wisdom, teach us how to navigate the ins and outs of relationships, or provide us with the knowledge and skill set we need to become better professionally.
These are mentors. They pave the way for us. And if we choose them wisely and work hard to cultivate those relationships, they can become a powerful source of growth for the rest of our lives.
Unfortunately, mentorship is far undervalued in our society. We tend to think in terms of formal learning structures. We go to school, acquire the necessary knowledge, obtain a job and then work. Oftentimes people forget that there is still valuable learning to be done outside of the books or formal training. Leadership principles can be discussed in a book. But they’re internalized where the rubber meets the road—in practice.
Mentorship comes with powerful benefits. It provides new perspectives, long-lasting relationships, more confidence, and continual growth. People who find mentors earlier in their career tend to stick around longer. They also tend to be happier.
If you want to tap into the power of mentorship in your career, education, or personal life, here are a few guidelines to get you started.
Mentors Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Mentorship exists as formal arrangements between students and advisors as well as informal relationships developed throughout a career. Finding a mentor in your job, for example, could happen spontaneously as a result of a conversation or even an email. If someone shows a genuine interest in your abilities and success, that’s enough to form the basis of a strong mentoring relationship.
Focus on What You Want to Achieve
Whether you’re just entering the workforce, changing careers, or looking to start your own business, there’s really no substitute for a mentor. But the mentor you choose depends largely on where you want to go.
If determining a path forward seems daunting, it’s because it is. To help, find a notebook and start writing down a vision for ten years into your future. What do you want out of your career and your life? Do you want more independence? Leadership? Is there an industry that’s calling your name? Start to extract the qualities around your goals. Then begin identifying the people you work with or hope to work with that closely mirror the career path and skills you hope to acquire.
One of the bigger mistakes people make when they begin a new job, is waiting for someone to take them under their wings. Potential mentors appreciate initiative. Work hard, offer to take something off of their plates, and try to bring new ideas to the table. If you do, you might be rewarded with a mentorship that pays dividends down the road.
Observe. Try. Ask.
Ok, so you’ve found a mentor. Now what? Mentorship is best when it’s not forced. The most important rule is not to be overbearing. Mentors are usually extremely successful. And that means they don’t have a lot of time or patience to repeatedly answer the same question or phone call after phone call. It’s also important not to ply your mentor for business connections or contacts.
It is important, however to observe your mentor in action. See how she controls a meeting. Watch how she talks with clients, or researches. Then try it for yourself. Walk in her shoes (not literally), mirror her style. And then once you have, ask for constructive feedback. It also doesn’t hurt if you take your mentor out to dinner during these feedback sessions. Remember, observe, try, and then ask.
Think in Terms of Methods and Strategies
Too often people focus on where their mentors have arrived in their careers while ignoring the hard work it took to get there. Pay careful attention to your mentor’s methods and strategies. What successful people do is great. But how they do it is even better. The mental frameworks and strategies involved with breaking down and finding solutions to difficult, complex problems will serve you well in your career.
Pay it Forward
If you’ve been on the receiving end of a powerful mentor, make sure you pay it forward. As your career grows, you will undoubtedly find others, like you once were, who need guidance, support, and advice. While having a mentor comes with amazing benefits, becoming a mentor is equally as rewarding. It helps solidify important lessons, cement confidence, and most importantly, mentoring is extremely rewarding.
Never underestimate the power of mentorship. More than helping you get ahead in life, a mentor can help you do it the right way while making your career more valuable, rich, and rewarding.