Like most things in life, the more you put into a relationship, the more likely you are to get what you want out of it. Here are some tips on how to make the most of a relationship with a mentor:
Consider recruiting a team of mentors, something akin to your own personal board of directors. If you want to develop the broad range of skills required in most leadership positions, you will probably need assistance from a group of individuals that offers those skills, not just from one individual with limited skills.
Mentors do not have to be in the same field as you. The broader the types of experience your mentoring team can offer, the more you will learn. For example, if you want to be successful in the Senior Executive Service, your skills will need to include knowledge of budgeting, contract management, human resources, project management and supervising. You would be wise to recruit mentors with those skills, as well as managers who would give you strategic advice about how to qualify for and land SES jobs.
Find mentors through people you know. Ask your current contacts for leads, applying the rule of six degrees of separation. Use alumni ties. Participate in mentoring or leadership training programs sponsored by your agency. Contact strangers in and out of your workplace who have relevant experience. Join educational organizations, like Toastmasters International. Find mentors through mentoring groups, such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which offers entrepreneurs free advice from successful business people.
These types of professional and educational organizations may be particularly helpful if you are confronting gender, age, racial or other barriers. They may introduce you to kindred spirits who have already conquered such challenges.
If you can’t get, or don’t want, person-to-person mentoring, consider instruction and advice from online communities and discussion boards, online classes, online discussions with distinguished individuals such as those sponsored by the International Mentoring Network Organization, and web searches for articles and columns on work-related issues.
Make a good first impression. Show up to your first meeting on time and prepared. Research your mentor’s background, think about why you admire him, identify your short-term and long-term goals and how your mentor can help you achieve them, and practice articulating this information.
Come to your meeting ready to receive negative as well as positive feedback, and mention your readiness to your mentor. In addition, show self-development by explaining what you have done thus far to meet your goals — for example, training, relevant assignments and previous mentoring.
Maintain your good reputation. Start each mentoring session or phone call by asking, “Is this a good time for you to talk?” Again, come to each meeting on time and prepared. Before each meeting, do any homework you and your mentor have agreed on, or else have a good excuse for not doing so. At the start of each meeting, identify your goals for the meeting. Explain how your mentor’s previous advice or the advice of others has helped you, or tactfully explain why you decided not to take your mentor’s advice or why you think your application of his advice didn’t work out. Also, have insightful questions in which you broach new issues. And end each meeting by thanking your mentor for his time.
Exit gracefully. If you decide to end your mentoring relationship for any reason, don’t just disappear. Gently tell your mentor about your decision, and thank him for some specific ways that he has helped you advance.