In The Devil Wears Prada, the main character, Andy, could have used a mentor. Then she wouldn't have had to bumble her way through all those ill-advised outfits and mismanaged work tasks. Sure, she eventually figured things out and rose through the ranks — but the key word here is "eventually." (And who knows? With a mentor, her big discovery — that this world wasn't for her — might have arrived a lot sooner!)
A mentor can offer guidance and advice so that you, unlike Andy, can circumvent any potential land mines at work. Here are some steps to help you start your mentor search.
It's important that you're clear on why you are looking for a mentor. Do you need someone to bounce ideas off of? Is it the opportunity to network through your mentor that most interests you? Or perhaps there's a specific project at work that you need advice on or a certain skill you want to develop.
You probably know what kind of leader you've worked well with in the past, and you likely respond to and interact more effectively with a certain type of person. This type may or may not have the same personality as you. If you tend to be introverted, for example, you may respond better (and indeed learn more from) someone who is a complete extrovert.
You want to lead the company one day, but the person leading the company now is not necessarily whom you should ask to be your mentor. Take time to consider all aspects of a potential mentor: Do they lead the life you hope one day to lead? (Consider their life outside the office, too!) The supervisor of the Wow Department may seem the obvious choice, but you know she practically lives at the office, which is not something you aspire to. Instead, take a look at the nearly-as-successful department head with the healthy work/life balance, whom you identify with more. And don't limit yourself to people at your current job. Broaden your pool of potential mentors to include family members, people from other organizations you're involved in, neighbours and so on.
It takes more than simply you asking and your mentor accepting for this unique relationship to work. From the start, you should be clear about what you're looking for from your mentor. And to help ensure you are both on the same page, be as explicit as you need to be with the details. What form will the mentoring take— weekly emails, phone calls, monthly coffees? It's really up to the two of you.
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