Sheryl Sandberg said in her book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”:
“I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. We all grew up on the fairy tale ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after. Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others.”
Don’t worry, this column isn’t about finding Prince Charming. I’m fortunate to have some amazing mentors and want to share some advice on how to find the right business mentor.
You’ve likely read a number of articles about the importance and value of having a mentor so I won’t go into great detail about that now. You’ve also probably read something about how to find a mentor. I did too but like many other business topics, I hardly found that these articles to be one size fits all.
For a long time I thought I didn’t have a mentor –I’d never asked anyone to be my mentor so how could this relationship have been established? Yes, I had women (and men) that I looked up to and who gave me their valuable insight and advice but since we didn’t meet once a month and I had never made the formal request, I didn’t think this really “counted” as a mentor. Then I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book and I realized in the case of finding a mentor that it is okay to break the “rules.”
• Ask for a meeting, not a mentor: I didn’t need to formally ask someone to BE my mentor and perhaps it is better to not make a formal ask. We all know how busy everyone is and being a mentor could become just another “thing” to do.
• Show genuine interest and curiosity: We’re humans, letting someone know you admire him or her and their work is a good first step. Instead of making the formal ask right away, ask to schedule a time when you could talk more.
• Be respectful of his or her time: If you’re looking for advice on a specific topic, create an agenda or share your objectives before you meet in person. Think outside the general questions that you could find out on LinkedIn.
• Don’t make it all about you: Listen and contribute – this should not be a one-way conversation. You can share your perspectives and be a sounding board for your mentor.
• Manage expectations — don’t expect a miracle, a new job or a life-changing breakthrough at each meeting or even with each mentor. Almost every conversation can bring value to your career.
• Initiate but don’t be a pest: Showing enthusiasm and becoming a nuisance to a busy businessperson can be a fine line. If someone doesn’t reciprocate interest, take the rejection with graciousness. Leave the door open in case the situation changes in the future.
• Be a mentor: Call it pay it forward or whatever you like but honestly, even if you don’t feel “ready” – you still have knowledge that is beneficial to someone. Always be on the lookout for how you can help others.
The opportunity to be a mentor or mentee brings many benefits and challenges. It may teach you lessons in accepting rejection or blossom into a connection that will help you excel and gain experience, knowledge and confidence … and isn’t that even better than finding Prince Charming?
Rebecca Shireman is the public relations and communications manager at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. She is currently on the board of directors of weVENTURE and Bridges Foundation and an active member of the Junior League of South Brevard, Inc. and volunteers with various other organizations throughout the community. She is the recipient of Lead Brevard’s 4 Under 40 award, Junior League’s Spirit of the League and the ABWA’ s Making a Difference award.
Columnist series is sponsored by weVENTURE at the Florida Institute of Technology College of Business. weVENTURE has locations in Melbourne and Rockledge. The Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information, visit weventure.org or call 321-674-7007.