Liz Selzer, PhD, MA, MDiv
The question came after I had just spoken to a group of college students on the importance of mentoring as a tool to support professional growth. My response was, “Always!”
Any person at any given time can find mentoring opportunities. This is because we can learn from the people we interact with every day. Mentoring does not have to be a formalized process. Mentoring is all about learning from another person. When we have an open mindset, we can learn in many instances from people with different perspectives, more advanced skills or wisdom from being in the trenches. We can do this by purposely seeking out people who know or exhibit the learning we want to find.
In my experience, the best leaders are those who are life-long learners. They have respect for the experience of others and intentionally seek to discover new understanding of situations by observing and asking questions.
That said, I also believe that there is a need to formalize the mentoring process with certain people. This is because the power of mentoring lies in the accountability and encouragement that a structured mentoring relationship gives.
Meeting regularly gives mentees the accountability of knowing that there is another person who is watching and encouraging them to keep up the hard work of growing in their personal and professional lives. Putting structure to mentoring includes writing goals and finding learning activities that encourage mentees to move forward.
Are there times when it is especially important to find a mentor? Yes, whenever you have specific growth objectives. Starting a new job, desiring a promotion, learning a new skill, working on character growth, are all times to find mentors. While it does take effort to find a mentor, it is well worth the energy spent.
How do I find a mentor? The process is not as daunting as you may think. It does require you to be observant and know yourself well enough to know what you need to learn.
1) Decide on your growth goal
What competency or character issue do you want to work on?
2) Observe the people around you
Try to keep an open mind as to who might have skill in the area you want to work on. Consider people in all aspects of your life…family, co-workers, neighbors, friends, acquaintances.
3) Identify exactly what you want to learn from your prospective mentors
Take the time to observe them in action. Identify specific examples of what you want to learn so you can share them with the prospective mentor.
4) Approach the person you want to be your mentor
Tell him or her specifically what you hope to learn. Give examples of what you have observed so they know exactly what you are asking form them. This also let’s them know you are serious and won’t waste their time since you were dedicated enough to the process to take time to observe.
5) Set a timeframe
Too often mentors may think they cannot make the commitment to mentor you because the commitment is unclear. Tell them how long you think it will take you to learn what you hope to learn so they know what they are signing up for.
I want to encourage you to not put this off. Mentoring is one of the very best ways to develop personally and professionally. Find your mentor today!