The Value of a 3rd Opinion – Part 1: finding and working with a Mentor

Posted November 22, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

Last week, we held an e-roundtable on the value of getting a 3rdThe ultimate mentor opinion when it comes to managing and driving your leadership career.  In my own experience, coaches, mentors and peer groups have been incredibly helpful to me at various stages of my career and, in my opinion, continue to be some of the most misunderstood and underutilized tools for many leaders.  So, if you missed the call, this is the first of 3 installments on how to get yourself a third opinion.  Today, we’ll look at how to find and work with a leadership Mentor.

Before we begin, I need to be clear: this is about finding a mentor who will help you with your LEADERSHIP.  This means that you need to find someone who’s been at least 2 to 3 levels up from where you are currently with bigger scope and number of year’s hands-on leadership under their belts. 

In my experience, a leadership mentor can help you:

  • Navigate new levels of scope
  • Offer a different perspective/vantage point on politics and priorities
  • Expand your thinking about your career options
  • Provide a different viewpoint
  • Access technical skills/techniques in “real time”
  • Broaden your leadership toolkit (both interpersonally and technically)

Here are some basic steps to finding and working with a leadership mentor:

  1. Know your goals… why do you want to work with a mentor?  What do you want to gain from the experience?  The mentor needs to be a combination of knowledge expert and coach, so knowing what it is that you want to learn is key.
  2. Ask for recommendations… once you have a clear picture in your mind of the type of support you need, ask your network for suggestions.  Look for execs who like to “help” not ones that are mostly interested in their own self-promotion.
  3. Start small… once you’ve identified the person you’d like to work with, approach them to see if they’d be willing to work with you for a six month period (aim for once a month meetings).  Start small with one specific (tactical) request to see if the relationship has potential.
  4. Be prepared… to make the meetings work for you and for your mentor, get focused before each one on what you have accomplished and what you want to discuss moving forward.
  5. Recognize when it’s time to move on… once your main objectives are accomplished, it’s time to move on (or else you’ll find yourself having great “coffee talks” and not much more).  By setting out a clear six month cycle, you can talk about renewing for another term if you both feel there’s still work to be done and/or shift to a looser relationship, if the main issues have been addressed.

One final piece of advice:  many of senior execs that I work with seem to get scared if you throw the word “mentor” at them.  For many, it’s too big a “handle” and, for others, it sounds like something that’s never going to end.  “It’s impossible to get rid of Mentees” a few have grumbled.  You may need to be more “stealth-like”.  Also, think about multiple mentors, both internally and externally.  In my experience, once size doesn’t fit all and it’s important to have a few people on your “team” to help you be successful.  Again, it’s all about being clear on where you need the support and what role they can play.

And remember, Mentoring is a very “self-directed” form of learning.  As the “Mentee”, you’ll get as much or as little out of the experience as you put into it.

Next time we’ll look at the key things to think about when setting up a peer forum (or MasterMind group).

Happy leading!


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