Mentor Mania or Menagerie

As I have progressed through my career both in law enforcement and the private sector, I consistently heard from supervisors that it is really helpful to ‘get a good mentor,’ to help guide you and get you to where you want to go.  Over those years, I never formally enlisted the services of a mentor nor sought out a formal process to identify a proper mentor.  A mentor by definition is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher, an influential senior sponsor or supporter. Yet, by definition, I have had oodles of informal mentors called by another name who still to this day positively guide, direct and influence my pathway forward and reflection of the behind.

Many times I have had those on my teams that I have led or peripheral professional exposures, send me notes, ‘To my Mentor,’ leave sticky notes on my desk or my notebook with, ‘Thanks to my Mentor…’ yet we never formalized a text book mentoring relationship.  At times people get hung up on the terminology, the formalization of a relationship whereby many may find that they hold a broader mentoring touch by practicing mentor like behaviors in their professional exchanges with those that seek out conversation and direction from them . USA Today author, Gladys Edmunds talks about the Entrepreneurial Tightrope and choosing a mentor by looking for someone who has successfully crossed the threshold you are looking to cross professionally.  She also notes it is important to recognize that a mentor cannot and should not take the place of professional help.  So being mindful of whether or not there is need for formal counseling (such as personal troubles where one may need a professional psychological perspective) versus professional career guidance.

If you believe a mentor, an influential sponsor interested in sharing their experiences and expertise with you, will be a point of strength as you begin a job search or look to expand your professional depth, take into considerations these mentor selection steps:

1) Ask yourself who within your past or present work environment you have naturally gravitated towards to vent, seek advice or direction from and consider asking them if they would mind being a mentor to you and setting up actual dedicated time once per week, once per month, once per quarter to strategize about your growth and development and absorb wisdom from their current and past experiences.

2) If you haven’t gravitated towards any individuals, consider asking your peers or an individual in a targeted work group you are interested in who they look up to and approach that individual with consideration of developing a mentor relationship.

3) Contact a professional business that has an established practice of mentoring to become integrated into your development strategy. Professional Development Strategies offers formalized, foundational and structured mentoring services for those seeking experienced, consistent and reliable guidance in both the public and private sector professions. Additionally, direction on navigating the complex corporate arena, mapping your career strategically and establishing core behavioral shifts from one structured environment to another to foster success.

4) Keep your eyes wide open, think about your professional or academic background and development and recognize that you have likely had and possibly still maintain informal mentor/mentee relationships.  Keep them going strong, you don’t have to change the dynamics of that relationship by calling it anything, just be thankful you have naturally built that into your growth cycle of life and work.

I must say I am forever grateful, forever learning new things from my informal mentors starting with my Mother to my Sister to Professors and some grizzly old bosses who at times have shaken me to the core yet taught me the most—may that process never stop.