Professionals often hear this advice early in their career: Find a mentor, and learn everything you can from that person. But it’s not as simple as walking up to a person you admire and saying, “Won’t you be my mentor?”
Like all relationships, mentorships shouldn’t be forced. They’re best when they develop naturally over time, and they require mutual effort and respect to be successful. So how do you go about finding the right mentor? Start by redefining mentorship entirely.
Seek guidance from many different people.
Think about the important friendships in your life. You wouldn’t expect one friend to share all your interests and meet all your needs. You probably have one friend you work out with, one you talk about books and politics with, one you try new restaurants with. Approach mentors in the same way, looking for a multitalented group of people who have skills and expertise you want to learn or emulate. Start small, asking for a piece of advice or help on a finite project, then focus on building long-term relationships.
Look all around you.
Your next mentor may not be a C-suite executive or even someone senior to you. Be open to learning from people in all stages of their career and across diverse industries. You could learn a great deal from a peer, an employee, or an acquaintance who works in a completely different field. Join professional networks and training programs that expose you to new people and ideas.
See how you can help.
Before you ask someone to help you, look for ways you can assist others. Make a valuable professional introduction. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Offer your skills to someone who needs them. Be a sounding board for a colleague. You’ll feel good helping others, and you’ll also break out of your routine and expand your normal networks.
Go beyond the formal model.
Some of the best mentorships are never officially defined that way. You might develop a close online network of people you can go to for advice or problem-solving techniques. Or you might cultivate a casual friendship with someone outside your company with whom you share ideas and best practices from time to time. Be open to the myriad ways modern mentorships can evolve.
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