If you pause and list all of the leaders that would make great mentors, there’s no doubt your list would be very long. But it’s important that your potential mentor be someone who can contribute to your short and long term career goals. Don’t limit your thinking to just the job you’re in. Think about the skills you need to build for the job you want in the future. List out the specific skills you need to develop and map those to the leaders that you KNOW rock in those areas. This is the best way to make the best use of any mentoring relationship.
Once you’ve given some thought to the goals of your desired mentoring relationship, it’s time to go after it. Depending on the potential mentor, it may seem extremely intimidating to ask for their help. You’ll come up with all of the reasons why this person has no time or desire to mentor you. But here’s the deal, most people are happy to share their time and expertise with people genuinely interested in growing professionally. Not only do they get to give back, but let’s be honest, it’s flattering to be identified as someone that is respected, admired, and that you want to learn from. Every mentoring relationship I ever had happened because I asked. In some cases, I asked leaders that I feared would wonder where I came from and why I was asking them for support. I was very junior in my career and this made me nervous. But each mentor I solicited willingly and enthusiastically took me under their wings. Of course, not every potential mentor will have the capacity or desire to help, but you don’t know if you don’t ask. Be brave!
Drive the relationship
As a mentor, I can tell you that my number one pet peeve is a mentee that expects me to drive the mentoring relationship. Remember, mentors usually have busy schedules and long to-do lists. Signing up to be your mentor shouldn’t add a tremendous amount of work to someone’s slate. It’s important to plan out exactly how you’ll use their time and find ways to maximize it. In the initial meeting with your new mentor, establish the parameters of the relationship. How often can they meet and for how long? Beyond scheduling, come to the first meeting with an initial list of “goals” for the mentorship. Being proactive and taking the initiative will not only make a great first impression but will allow your mentor time to think through how they can specifically help you. Ahead of every following meeting, send your mentor your agenda one week in advance. Again, this gives your mentor time to think through how to add the most value to the relationship. I recommend never showing up to a meeting with your mentor, with your only plan being to “catch up”. While that aspect is important, that’s never going to help you make the most of your mentor’s support.
Fairly early in my professional development, it became clear that having an understanding of the big picture, beyond collections, would improve my level of influence. I wasn’t that knowledgeable about how the bank made money and how the P&L really worked. Although it wasn’t something I needed to know immediately, I knew that a better understanding of the bank at large would make me an even broader contributor to the company and a stronger influencer. I knew that one day, I would need to ask the P&L owners for investments in technology. And I wanted to do so in the most compelling and relatable way possible. So what did I do? I found the smartest P&L expert I could find and asked him to be my mentor. He was happy to help! I firmly believe that this proactive education played a big role in my ability to influence leaders to invest in me and my ideas when the time came.
If you’re on the fence about building a mentor/mentee relationship, I’m telling you to run, don’t walk. Do so intentionally and proactively and you won’t go wrong!
Amy Perkins is President of insideARM and The iA Institute and Chair of the uniquely engaging Women in Consumer & Commercial Finance event. She also hosted this amazing video series called #fiveinfive, interviewing dozens of women about what they've learned and who they admire. You can follow Amy on Linkedin.