The most successful leaders I know have had mentors (often more than one at a time) through their leadership journey. They’ve been proactive in identifying leaders who can champion their development in the short term, and become sponsors for future role opportunities.
Modelling successful leaders who have achieved the goals you’ve set for yourself is a smart strategy for your development.
Years ago, in my corporate career, I was displaced from a role due to a new Managing Director coming on board who brought her Head of Marketing with her. She had a great reputation and I had a choice: to focus on the unfairness of it all with my pride shattered, or to instead pluck up the courage to capitalise on a mentoring opportunity with her. She said yes thankfully!
When I look back at my own career though, and the people who helped guide me, I can’t help but wonder what could have been if I had invested more in those relationships. So, here are my words of advice – the things I wish I’d known and done when I wanted to get ahead back then:
1. Know where you’re at
It’s important to know what you want to accomplish in order to find the right people to guide you there. You need to:
- know you – who you are as a leader and what you stand for
- be self-aware enough to see yourself accurately, to have no ego in the feedback your give yourself
- know your development priorities
- commit to being the leader your team requires and deserves.
2. Be accountable for your development
You don’t have to be ambitious, or have a career path mapped out, but you do need to have a clear awareness of what you need in order for you to succeed. This matters because it’s also important to know how you are progressing, what needs to change, and what will prevent you from getting there. These areas are your responsibility, not your bosses. And the more clarity you have within these areas, the more valuable a good mentor can be to you.
3. Invest in relationships
Research has shown that the biggest predicator to your career success is your ability to build relationships and open networks. Place just as much effort into building genuine relationships as you do achieving results.
The better your network, the greater chance you have of leveraging mentor relationships and sponsors.
4. Match your development gaps to your mentor’s strengths
While it’s important that you like, respect and trust a mentor, what’s more important is that you match your development gaps with a mentor who has strengths in those areas. With this approach, you get to acknowledge your future mentor with the reason you want to align with them. Your why for choosing them, matters to them.
5. Pitch a mentoring request with a clear structure in place
Successful leaders want to give back, and they don’t want to waste their time. Be clear on what you’re after and make the set-up part of your pitch. For example, request 3 mentoring sessions (30-60 minutes) over 3 months with specific mentoring objectives in place. You’re more likely to get a ‘yes’ if you’re clear upfront about how it could work.
After the arrangement ends, keep in touch and foster the relationship.
Having a number of short mentoring arrangements means you get to receive value from a diverse range of people – inside and outside your organisation ideally.
Do you have a great mentoring relationship in place? How could mentoring give your performance a boost?