Finding the Perfect Mentoring Match by Jennifer Sellers
Is finding the perfect mentor like finding a needle in haystack? It doesn’t have to be. Seeking out the right mentoring match may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little time investment and self-reflection, the process can yield multiple options. Mentors are plentiful. They come in all shapes and sizes. Thinking through what you want to get out of a partnership before you begin your search usually results in the most rewarding and productive match.
So, what type of mentor are you looking for?
Technical mentors – People you turn to for professional advice. These mentors generally have a strong reputation for technical excellence. Consider – do you want to connect with a subject-matter expert? Or maybe you are looking for broad-based experience across a variety of skills and competencies.
Relationship mentors– People you can turn to and learn how to develop strategic relationships and partnerships. Relationship mentors also provide a safe environment for you to learn how to deal with difficult people, manage conflict, influence others. Selecting a mentor with whom you can have authentic, honest conversations requires a certain level of chemistry and trust.
Navigational mentors – People who can help you understand how to navigate the unwritten rules, corporate culture, and can help you strategize next steps for success within the organization. This mentor can decode the unspoken organizational culture – an agency Sherpa, if you will!
It is important to remember that although you might originally have one type of partner in mind (for example, someone like you) being open to new perspectives often yields a perfect and powerful match.
A recent study provided by The Training Connection, Inc. discovered that it is actually the differences that make the best matches:
- 84% responded favorable in response to differences in experience. Mentors are likely better able to offer mentorees a different point of view through their own experiences.
- 71% responded favorable in response to differences in behavioral style (DISC). Finding a partner who brings a different behavioral style to the partnership (not too similar, but not too far apart) is very beneficial to the growth and success of the partnership. (One obvious example - if you are quiet and shy to look for someone who is more outgoing and charming.)
- Differences in gender, cultural background, and generation have also made a positive difference.
Below are some additional thoughts to keep in mind when beginning your search:
Be proactive. Mentorees need to be proactive not just in their mentoring search, but in the partnership as well. In formal mentoring programs, the programs do not fail, the partnerships do. This occurs when parties are not committed up-front to the process, or clear with their partner if something has changed and they need to end the partnership.
Look for someone outside of your chain of command. It goes without saying that your boss should always be your informal mentor, however in a formal mentoring partnership, the best matches are outside one’s chain of command. Mentorees are more likely to open up and feel comfortable confiding in someone who does not have input to their performance reviews. Mentorees need someone who can create a safe space to bounce ideas off of and a mentor who is outside of their immediate day to day work environment can provide that.
Thoughtfully commit to the mentoring partnership. The most successful mentoring matches are ones in which both the mentoree and mentor are given a voice in the partnership - meaning the match is not forced and both are willing to give their full attention to the partnership. Be sure to thoroughly research the mentors background and availability. Don’t be discouraged if a mentor says they are unavailable. When requesting a mentor let them know you have others in mind if they are unavailable, this will allow a mentor the option to say no if they do not have time to dedicate to the partnership.
You may find it helpful later on to see if they are available as a situational mentor to enhance a formal partnership. A situational mentor is the right help at the right time and is usually available to help solve a quick problem, uncover a hidden talent or learn a new skill or behavior. They can be the perfect enhancement to a formal mentoring partnership.
As I mentioned earlier, finding a mentor doesn’t have to be like searching for a needle in a haystack - you simply need to do the homework. Carefully thinking through what it is you are looking for in your mentor is sure to result in a fruitful partnership for both you and the mentor.
As you begin your search for your mentor it would be good to ask yourself or discuss with someone close to you the following questions:
- How would you describe your ideal mentor?
- What qualities would they have?
- What capabilities?
- What character?
- What area are you looking to gain from a mentor?
- Technical knowledge?
- Building relationship tips and techniques?
- Navigating the inner workings of the organization?
- Are you looking for someone who has a similar or different career path?
- Are you looking for someone who is similar or different than you behaviorally?
- Would you benefit from a mentor who is new to the organization?
- Or someone more seasoned?
- Do you want someone who is geographically located near you or someone who is at a distance?
- What challenges might you have if you have a remote mentor?
- How could you overcome these challenges?
About the Author
Jennifer Sellers is the President of The Training Connection, Inc. and has two decades of mentoring and business development experience. She is responsible for tailoring the mentoring design, process and system for each customer’s specific needs. Jennifer has been instrumental in the development of "The Mentoring Connection," an innovative web-based mentoring system. She has facilitated the matching process for thousands of mentoring partnerships over her 20 year career in federal, private and non-profit organizations. As a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA), Jennifer carefully examines how behavior impacts the success of formal and informal mentoring matches.