"The manatee has become the mento." --Tracy Jordan from NBC's 30 Rock
I’m an avid believer in the idea of a mentor. I’m in HR, it kind of goes with the territory. But come on, the concept that someone is looking out for you, guiding you, teaching you – it doesn’t get much better than that. Tracy and Kenneth from 30 Rock would clearly agree.
Now, there is a difference between formal mentoring and informal mentoring. And they definitely serve different purposes. Formal mentoring happens when you’re paired with someone who is supposed to teach you something. It can definitely have a more casual feel to it. You might be matched by an external group, but you don’t have a set agenda and it’s up to you to set one for yourselves (and that’s what we decided on in a mentoring program in our office, but that’s a whole other story). Or it can be more structured in that you’re matched with the goal of accomplishing something specific.
Mentoring can also be informal. Personally I think that the informal relationship is one that develops over time because there is a personal connection between the people in that relationship. It’s not forced or set up through matching, but instead comes out of conversations, shared projects or group interactions. Sometimes you unintentionally gravitate towards someone who can become a mentor.
I had a brush with this “gravitational” nature of an informal mentoring relationship and that got me thinking about mentoring relationships. I’ve been working on a project for a while now with someone I really like and truly respect. At a meeting last week, he spoke up on my behalf to tout some of the work I had done. And when I found myself less than thrilled with the outcome, not only did he check up on me, but he encouraged me with some positive reinforcement and advised me on how to move forward from my stalled position.
That’s really what mentoring is all about. Here’s someone who is looking out for me, acting as my cheerleader, pushing me to do more and guiding me towards success.
Depending on your personality, both formal and informal mentoring can work for you. Sometimes you need the structure of a formal relationship. Sometimes you don’t and informal works better. But either way, finding someone who is looking out for you and helping you achieve your own goals goes a long way towards maintaining your happiness (at work and in life) and setting you up to do good things down the road. You can ask your mentor(s) to give feedback, to act as decision advisors, and to serve as stable members of your overall career support network.
So what if you don’t have one? Identify someone who you think can be a mentor. Talk to them about that role, why you picked them and what you’d want them to do. Think about what you want to get out of a mentor – is it career guidance? Is it help with a particular skill set? Is it to introduce you to others in your field? Is it to pave a way for you in your organization? This is on you, no one else is going to own it. And keep in mind that your mentor today won’t necessarily be your mentor forever. They can phase in and out as you need them.
If you can’t identify someone to serve as your mentor after thinking really hard about it, think about why you are where you are and whether it’s time to make a change. Yes, yes, I know, now’s not the best time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t consider your options. And if you are stuck, find someone external to your organization that can be a mentor for you.
Any success stories you’ve had being mentored? How about successes as a mentor? What worked and what didn’t? What do you want in a mentor? Show me some love.