The right mentor can make a huge difference to your career, writes Katherine Reynolds Lewis for Fortune.
Lois Zachary, author of The Mentor's Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships, tells Reynolds Lewis that 96% of executives consider mentoring as an important development tool.
As Zachary points out, the benefits of mentoring are manifold. She explains: “A mentor can help connect you to other networks and can expose you to different ideas, different people that you otherwise would never have that opportunity for.”
However, there are common mistakes to avoid when it comes to mentoring relationships. Reynolds Lewis highlights five of them:
1) Having a mentor who’s too similar. It might seem like a good idea to develop a mentoring relationship with someone from a similar background, but you need a person with different experience and perspective to help you grow and identify your weaknesses. People with experience of different companies, sectors and industries can also help to widen your knowledge and skills.
2) Asking for general help. You need to be specific about the areas in which you want to learn and improve. Reynolds Lewis points out that you might not know where you need to grow or develop at first, but that can be part of the process. Once you’ve identified your weaknesses, look for a mentor who can help you in a specific area – such as management, communication, presentations, etc.
3) Wasting time. To make the most of your time with your mentor, set an agenda. Keep conversations focused on your development.
Zachary suggests: “You take your goals in a series of conversations and make them very specific and targeted.”
4) Considering it a one-way relationship. Mentoring is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Although you’re the one seeking help, your mentor can learn from you, too.
Jodi Allen, marketing and brand operations vice president at Procter & Gamble Co, tells Reynolds Lewis that she enjoys discussing developments in mobile tech and social media with people she mentors. “I feel like I get at least as much as I give,” says Allen.
“They give me a huge amount of energy. They’re young and ambitious and so much more skilled than I was at that point in my life.”
5) Forcing the relationship. Reynolds Lewis advises against rushing into a mentoring arrangement, as the relationship should develop naturally. Some people might be reluctant when asked directly if they will act as a mentor. You should get to know them well first.
You might not even need to ask for a formal mentoring arrangement, as it could develop organically. Ask colleagues and contacts if they know of anyone you could learn from.
Zachary advises: “You have to go out and be able to say to people, ‘I want to learn x, y, and z and here are my priorities.’ “It’s much easier to get a good answer from someone other than saying, ‘I’m looking for a mentor, who do you know?’”