I’ve been in business 30 years and have never had a mentor, or so I thought. I’ve never had a formal relationship with someone selected for me or by me with specific goals and routines. But does that mean I’ve never been mentored? Absolutely not.
If you think about who a mentor could be – teacher, coach, champion, sponsor, trusted counselor or guide – I’ve had the benefit of a mentor throughout my career. Most often, it has been my boss. I’ve been fortunate to work for people I respect, who are respected in the company and industry and who have an innate ability to pass along wisdom. I’ve trusted their guidance and been able to openly discuss issues and opportunities without fear of untoward consequences. One of the most important impacts mentors have made on my career is encouraging me to take risks and follow my curiosity. I’ve spent much of my career in International and had unique experiences that positively impacted my career progression. I wouldn’t have been successful without my mentor helping me understand the new cultures, business situations and challenges.
I’ve been a formal and informal mentor many times. At one point, I had 11 mentees. This didn’t work out well. It was impossible to form the understanding and trust critical to strong relationships. How could I offer new perspectives, counsel, support and encouragement when I didn’t have time to get to know the person? It was less about mutual respect and more about matching schedules.
From this, I learned what it takes to be a good mentor. It’s an art and a science. The science is fairly simple: set goals and boundaries, provide structure and visibility and insist on trust and confidence. The art is more nuanced. Finding someone you believe in, who believes in you, who shares common goals and is open and motivating can be difficult. The best relationships are reciprocal; that is, both people grow and flourish. Finding this isn’t done through a questionnaire. It’s through discussions, meeting a variety of people, being clear on what you are looking for and being open to someone who may not be the traditional role model.
Is it wise to simply trust in having a mentoring boss? No. A more deliberate approach is more predictive of success. With a mentor by your side, your journey is much richer and more fun. With that said, don’t overlook the most accessible mentor you can have – your boss.