This is a guest post from Stephanie Dominy, consultant GC at Dominy Legal. Before she moved into consultancy work, Stephanie was the GC at Snyk, a Boston-based cybersecurity company.
Most successful people credit their success in part to their mentors - but how do you go about getting mentored? What does the mentor-mentee relationship look like?
In the best cases, mentoring brings benefits to both parties and can even lead to long term friendships. Here’s how you can get started.
For your work or career mentor, someone who is just ahead of you in the journey and who has recent memory of being where you are right now is ideal
1. Knowing who to look for
A mentor is usually a person that you admire and aspire to be in the future.
For example, Judi was the chair and fellow trustee of a charity. In my life, I’ve had several “what would Judi do?” moments, and channeling Judi has helped me with some of my most difficult decisions, both in work and in life.
In an ideal world, aim to have one mentor who is in your field and understands the work and career challenges you face, and another who is simply a person from whom you can learn broader leadership or life skills.
Alternatively you could be faced with a particular challenge in your life and work, and may need a mentor for that specific period of time.
Unless you're hoping to reach an executive level position in the next two years, you probably shouldn’t reach out to a C-suite executive. You may admire them and would love to learn from them, but you may have little in common and it may be a waste of time for both of you.
For your work or career mentor, aim to find someone who is two or three promotional levels above you in their career. Someone who is just ahead of you in the journey and who has recent memory of being where you are right now is ideal.
I usually recommend that mentors are from outside your workplace. Honesty, confidentiality, trust and impartiality are important elements of the mentoring relationship, and these are better addressed when there is no possibility of conflict of interest.
You may think the mentor is doing all the giving, but the benefits flow both ways. When you thank your mentor, don’t forget to ask how you can reciprocate
2. Knowing where to look
When looking for a potential mentor, you have several options available to you:
- Events, both virtual and in-person
- Dropping an informal ask in your networks to be introduced to potential mentors
- Using a formal mentoring scheme, such as the Juro community’s mutual mentoring programme
- Considering a commercial mentoring platform, which seeks to match mentors to mentees
There’s nothing wrong with posting on social media about your mentorship needs and asking your connections to introduce you to someone suitable, but approaching someone cold on LinkedIn is not recommended!
Most senior executives are busy people and receiving a cold approach from a keen junior associate they have never met and with whom they share nothing in common is likely to result in a cold shoulder.
If you do succeed in connecting with a potential mentor, write them a short, thoughtful message where you define what you would like from them and how they can help you.
3. Knowing what you want from the mentorship
You’ve found your mentor - great! But what next?
Your desired mentor is likely a busy person - so be respectful of their time.
Your mentorship shouldn’t be an open-ended commitment with a free-wheeling agenda. When asking for their help, set out your expectation of a reasonable cadence of meetings and timeframe, for example: 45 minutes, once a month, for six months.
Think about asking for specific items that you would like them to help you with. For example, it could be around:
- Balancing work and parenting
- Navigating the workplace as a member of a minority
- Building your personal brand
With these objectives, you can then also set an agenda for each meeting you’d like to work through. You may click so well that you become friends, and choose to extend your meetings beyond the agreed timeframe or agenda, but be intentional about whether you do this. Organic connections often contribute positively to a mentorship program, helping to foster a collaborative and supportive environment.
4. Knowing you can offer value in return
This is an important point that’s often overlooked. You may think the mentor is the one doing all the giving, but actually, the benefits flow both ways. When you thank your mentor after each meeting, don’t forget to ask them how you can reciprocate.
You may think there is nothing at all that you could possibly help them with, but you’d be surprised. You may offer a perspective that they are lacking, for example.
Those who are willing to give freely of their time or expertise may not see immediate return, but the attitude of giving is one that ultimately rewards the giver
Be a giver, not a taker
According to Adam Grant in Give & Take, the most successful people in life are the givers.
Those who are willing to give freely of their time or expertise may not see immediate return, but the attitude of giving is one that ultimately rewards the giver.
If you’ve been a recipient of mentoring, you may wish to pay it forward and become a mentor yourself to the next generation.
One day, those mentees may also think: “What would [your name] do?”
Stephanie Dominy is consultant GC at Dominy Legal.
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