This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
With information moving faster than we can keep up with, mentorship is becoming increasingly important to help navigate the seas of change in our industries. Today it’s less about gathering information – since we’re buried in it – and more about about gaining insights and knowledge from the professionals around you. Many protégés express their gratitude for the time and discussions that they have with their mentors but little do they know that their mentors also gain tremendous value from this equation.
I’ve personally and professionally gained a great deal of insight from both mentors and protégés and these experiences have helped me to refine my personal philosophies and understanding of the world. Below are three lessons that have helped to guide my role as both a mentor and someone who has benefited from others’ advice.
Learning is a lifelong adventure
Think about when you started your first job: Every task was monumental, every activity a challenge. Since you had no experience, you needed to learn all the basics. Jump ahead a few years and you’ve moved on to a new role with a growing list of responsibilities. Although you were still learning, it was in a completely different way.
As we grow as professionals, how we learn changes with each job and it never stops. With every role you take on, seek out those who can help you hone the skills you need to climb the next rung of your career ladder. Think about the qualities you’re looking for in this partnership. Is this person in a role you aspire to be in? Does his or her career path mirror your goals? Are you a good fit for them? Identify your strengths, weaknesses and goals, and find someone who complements you and your priorities at this point in your career.
With the technology available today, it’s easier than ever to find the right person (or people) to mentor you. Think about the people who are part of your networks and make a list of top contenders. Chances are you already have multiple connections who are excellent candidates, whether they’re close co-workers or professional acquaintances. Don’t be bound by your immediate connections. Use social media to find out who your contacts know and ask for introductions – the superstar at your favourite company is just a message away and can bring your learning to the next level.
Mentors come and go – don’t miss out
At some point we might think we’ve made it in our careers. We’ve risen to a level or title we’re happy with and we’re earning a salary that makes us proud. Does that mean we no longer need to ask for advice? It certainly doesn’t. No matter if you’re the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company or the head of the student union, there’s always someone who can shed insight on your career. Continue to seek out experts around you. The benefits of mentorship are immeasurable. Your mentor can be a sounding board and introduce you to new people – both of which are invaluable for your long-term goals.
Mentors can be formal, but they don’t have to be. Brief conversations can lead to small gems of advice that make a big difference. As a leader, it’s important to take these opportunities as they come. Sitting down for coffee with a junior staff member might not seem like much, but in the end your wisdom and experience could help this person immensely and you will be inspired by hearing their perspective.
Advice from mentors is just one tool
Sometimes your mentor is going to provide you with some tough love. Maybe you need to step up to the plate at work and take on more of a leadership role. Whatever it is, remember why you asked this person to be your mentor – they have knowledge that you’re eager to learn. This person is here to help you better yourself in your career and that might mean giving you challenges to overcome.
That being said, your mentor’s advice is simply a starting point. Even the best suggestions in the world won’t help if you don’t have the confidence to apply them. The onus is on you to take the feedback you receive and make an effort to correct your course.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Mentorship fits perfectly into this statement, as it lets you contribute to the success of another, while allowing you to grow both personally and professionally. As you refine your professional plan for 2014, look for many and varied opportunities to mentor and be mentored.
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