What career secret do Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Plato and Yves Saint Laurent have in common? They all had mentors. Oprah had Maya Angelou; Bill Gates had Warren Buffet, YSL had Christian Dior, and Plato had Socrates. While they all had great skill and drive, their mentors gave them the wisdom and the guidance to super-size their success. And you can too. This article explains the benefits of having a mentor (and why it can be more effective than an MBA!) and how to find one.
While nearly all career experts say that a mentor can help enhance your career, very few companies have mentoring programs. But the people who were lucky enough to have mentors cited how this helped them develop their career, either by offering useful advice or actively helping them plan their career moves.
Take note that mentors are not just role models. You can look up to someone without enjoying open communication and regular feedback. The other person just acts like an inspiration, rather than someone who you can bounce ideas with and who is committed to your personal development.
And, contrary to instinct, your boss may not be your best mentor. Some objectivity is needed in your relationship, especially during performance appraisals. It’s best to get a mentor who understands your industry and may even be part of it, but is not directly involved in your day to day tasks. And choosing someone who is in your industry, but not in your company, can help expand your network.
You can start your search for a mentor by asking a ‘candidate’ if you can ask advice on a particular career challenge you are undergoing. Someone who reacts positively and goes out of his way to give you ideas will make a good mentor. Once you’ve found someone you can trust, and who seems ready and able to fill the role, go ahead and ask—don’t wait for him to offer. And if he says no, that’s okay. Asking is the only way to find out, and either way you’ve paid a great compliment and strengthened your relationship with someone you obviously respect.
And if he says yes…that’s great! Meet regularly and take his advice with an open mind and a willing attitude.
Photo from simonfairbankspmso.blogspot.com