So, You’re Looking For A Mentor

Great leaders have personal growth plans. No matter how seasoned of a leader you are, we all have potential for growth. Someone out there is further along. Someone out there has experience to add to your thinking. Someone out there has questions you haven’t even thought to ask. 

Mentors are all around us. Who makes you feel confident, inspired, focused, and is willing to share their experience?

~Anna Letitia Cook

Here are a few ways to find that someone (or someones) who can help you meet your goal:

Define the kind of mentoring you need for your goal. A lot of people have notions of what mentoring is, but truly it is what you make it. Do you need a teacher? Clarify what skill you need and look for who can help you. Do you need to bypass a troublesome spot in your leadership? Name it! Then, look for that person who has overcome that sticky spot in their own leadership. Maybe it’s someone to share what they have learned to give you focus for your growth goal.

Find the mentor that will help you achieve that goal. Access to mentors is not necessarily easy. Often formal mentor programs are reserved for successors. If you want to grow as a leader, you will have to be on the hunt. Think through these questions as you start your quest:

  1. What mentors are readily available to me right now? Look at work, networks, church, neighbors, friends or even family
  2. How might a male or female perspective differ on this area of growth? Sometimes gender (or even other differences) doesn’t matter for your growth goal and other times the richness gained from a mentor that is not like you can be powerful.
  3. Am I looking for a mentor or do I need a coach? A mentor offers you insight from their own experience. A coach facilitates conversations that help you draw out insight from your own experiences to apply to the new situations you face. 
  4. How much am I willing to invest? If you are a more seasoned leader, you will probably have to invest more than time. Mentorship may not be free for you to get what you need.

Craft your mentoring relationship. Some mentorship can be easily obtained through courses, books, or following influencers, especially as you gain more focus on your growth goal. Other goals require access to someone who has “been there” and “done that.” And, they are usually busy people. Don’t make them have to think hard. Make it easy for them to say yes.  Get clear on what you are asking for: A one-time conversation? A one-on-one time-commitment? To shadow and observe them in their work? 

Make the mentoring relationship a WIN for your mentor. If mentoring is a one-way street, you will probably get a, “No.” How will you make it a win for your mentor? Get creative! Offer to work on a project for free. Offer an “act of service” that makes their life easier. Offer clarity so they know exactly what you expect from them and what you are willing to give.

Next Steps

  1. Write it out! Don’t just think about mentoring, write out specifically what you want. Ask a few colleagues or friends for feedback so your request is clear before you start.
  2. Reach out to more than one. Get a list of at least 5 people who could be a fit for your goal. Remember people are busy and you may get many “No’s” before the “Yes”.
  3. Be committed. Remember you are asking for time and expertise. Take time to prepare for every interaction and follow up on suggestions your mentor offers.

I would love to hear your thoughts. What has made a mentoring relationship work for you? What would you add to the list? Comment below.

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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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