9 Essential Qualities to Look for In a Mentor

“Always in motion is the future.”
– Yoda

Mentors are more than just advisors. They are guides that help protégés grow and develop. Mentors are valuable allies to have on your side. Let’s explore some of the best qualities to look for in a mentor.

Mentors should:

• Be available. The relationship between a mentor and protégé doesn’t occur immediately. It evolves over time. And time is something most people have in short supply. Mentors must be willing to spend time regularly with their protégé and have a desire to work with their protégé to plan strategically and to help build that individual’s career.

• Be willing to learn. An ideal mentoring relationship is really a partnership in which both parties learn from each other. The mentor brings knowledge and experience, but so too does the protégé. The mentor’s insights can help boost your skills, abilities and goals accomplishment. The younger protégé (or less experienced because mentors can be younger than their protégé) can provide a different perspective that an open-minded mentor can use to improve their workplace relationships.

• Be knowledgable. A mentor does not have to be an expert, but should be proficient with the political structure and operations of the company, the industry or your profession. You can benefit from a mentor’s cross-departmental relationships or industry contacts. A mentor with a broad-base of knowledge has more to offer and can add to your overall career development.

• Be a good listener. Listening is an important interpersonal skill and one that not everyone is proficient. The mentor should give their full attention to the protégé (and vice versa). Let the person finish speaking before you chime in. It is also important to ask questions. A mentor who is a good listener can ask probing questions to flesh out a clearer picture of what the protégé is presenting. This way the mentor acts as a sounding board who in turn can provide unbiased feedback.

• Be open-minded. By keeping an open mind, a mentor can help you develop a vision for the future based on their short- and long-term goals. Understanding the direction and expectations of the protégé will make charting the course a seamless process.

• Be a confidant. Everyone needs a safe place to safely open up, a place to work off frustration, anger, or apprehension without fear of retaliation. A safe harbor is created after there is mutual trust established in the relationship. In addition to listening, maintaining confidentiality and providing feedback are the key things you needs. Mentors should provide protégés with a shelter where thoughts can be voiced, emotions can run and ideas can be acted upon (or curbed). This sanctuary provides an environment suitable for you to learn control and coping techniques.

• Be challenging. Imagine taking a dog for a walk (I’m in no way comparing a protégé to a dog). You can walk a dog with no leash and the dog can run all over the place. You can also walk a dog on a three-foot leash and it will stay right by your side. Or you can walk a dog on a leash that allows it to walk from three feet to 15 feet away, but it can always get back to safety if danger threatens. Likewise, mentors can create situations or assign activities to protégés. This allows you to step out of your comfort zone and develop new ways of thinking or new skills. The safe environment is conducive to you gaining independence. If the project goes well, the protégé could earn credit and recognition and discover a new identity in the workplace.

• Be honest. When I was growing up my mother would tell me to “look in the mirror” when I was acting out. I didn’t get it until I became a parent. Explaining how others view the protégé is an important attribute of a mentor as well. Just like with parenting, sometimes mentors need to use tough love and say the things that you might not want to hear. The advice is offered in a mentoring relationship, so then you are less likely to get defensive because you know the mentor has your best interests at heart.

• Be a champion. If you have demonstrated that you are a solid performer, a mentor can be your best supporter – and defender. Mentors can help protégés transfer to other areas of the company when opportunities arise. If you misspeak at a meeting and something is taken out of context, the mentor can step in and stop the rumor mill.

You shouldn’t seek out a mentor that can only provide instruction. Instead, you should look to a mentor who can commit to an ongoing, developmental relationship that will foster trust and help build confidence in the workplace. Tomorrow, I will discuss the essential attributes for protégés.

Has your career been impacted by a mentor? If so, please add to my list of mentor attributes.

So, You Want a Mentor?

“Always two there are, no more, no less: a master and an apprentice.”
– Yoda

Two years ago I decided that I needed a mentor. I needed someone at my company to help shepherd me, to help me grow as a person and as a professional. I did not look to a boss or friends (co-workers) – I wanted my own Yoda.

I asked someone that I held in high esteem and who was well-respected in my company – an individual I thought I could learn a lot from. When I asked the question, “Would you consider being my mentor?” I was asked a question in return. My future mentor asked me what I was looking for in a mentor.

Fortunately I had answers to the question. I was looking for a mentor to help me develop my full potential. Specifically:

• Build my confidence and trust in myself
• Empower me to see what I could do
• Help me chart a path to career growth
• Challenge me
• Stimulate my learning with no pressure
• Share personal experiences
• Teach me something
• Explain things
• Offer a different perspective
• Listen, understand and be a confidant
• Help me identify and work with my strengths and weaknesses

Before you start making a short list of people you’d want to be your mentor, you need to conduct a self-exploration exercise. You need to determine what you’re looking for in a mentor. When you have fully acknowledged the areas you’re looking to develop, then you can go about finding the best person to make that happen.

Tomorrow, I will explore the top qualities of a good mentor.

Yoda: The Best Mentor Ever

Mentor Yoda“Help you I can, yes.”
– Yoda

In the original Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker decides that he needs help on his quest to become a Jedi knight. Luke needs guidance and training so he can unlock his true potential and master the Force.

Luke travels to an isolated, swamp-ridden planet, where he finds Yoda who helps Luke to learn and grow by facing his fears and building up his confidence. Yoda, a wise and trusted counselor, becomes Luke’s mentor.

Yoda played an important role in Luke’s life – he helped Luke grow as a person and served as his guide for his Jedi journey. Their relationship developed over time, and Luke reaped the rewards of Yoda’s wisdom and experience.

Yoda set difficult challenges for his protégé, and encouraged him to figure out ways to accomplish the tasks. That’s where a mentor differs from a boss or a friend.

A boss is focused on the job or task at hand. They will tell you how to do something or show you how to do it. A mentor helps you believe in yourself.

A friend will tell you the things you want to hear, while a mentor will tell you the things you need to hear. Yoda did not sugarcoat the truth. Instead, he voiced his concerns and feelings directly and openly.

A mentor can have a significant impact on your personal and professional development. This week I will explore different aspects of the mentor-protégé relationship. At the conclusion of the series, you should have a better understanding of the advantages of having a mentor. Stay tuned – and may the Force be with you.

Mentoring Can Be a Boost to Your Company

mentor career boost“Ecologists tell us that a tree planted in a clearing of an old forest will grow more successfully than one planted in an open field. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the forest tree are able to follow the intricate pathways created by former trees and thus embed themselves more deeply. Similarly, human beings thrive best when we grow in the presence of those who have gone before. Our roots may not follow every available pathway, but we are able to become more fully ourselves because of the presence of others.”
– Lois J. Zachary, The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships

Learning is the fundamental process in mentoring, so both parties – the mentor and the protégé – need to have a connection for meaningful learning to take place.

It’s also important for the mentor to demonstrate a genuine interest in the protégé. And a mentor has to have the desire to share their knowledge and experience. Their reward comes from seeing their protégé grow and develop under their tutelage. As the protégé gains experience and standing in the company, the success of the protégé will naturally be reflected on the mentor.

But above all, there is genuine satisfaction of playing a pivotal role in another individual’s success. The mentor’s vision and values will be a part of the protégé for the remainder of their career.

Meaningful learning will have a profound effect on the mentor, the protégé, and quite possibly the company as a whole. According to Dr. Zachary, mentoring can:

• Help retain the next generation of leaders
• Improve leadership and managerial skills
• Develop new leaders
• Enhance career development
• Place individuals with higher potential on the fast track professionally

Strong mentoring relationships are positively associated with career satisfaction and employee retention. And people who have mentors are more confident, enthusiastic and successful in their jobs.

Does your company have a formal mentoring program? How has it benefited you?

Reinvent Yourself – Developing the New You

Now that you have started your reinvention process and repackaged yourself for your new career, you’re ready to start your journey.

Remember, changing your thought process takes time and practice, but if you can stick with it, the result can be a bright new career. Here are a few tips that will prepare you for some of the obstacles that can send individuals running back to the comfort of their old habits.

Take your time. Reinventing yourself doesn’t happen overnight. If you want to be successful in your transition, go slowly. Test the waters to see if a new career really suits you. For example, if you work in accounting but want to transfer to event planning, try taking a part-time job as an assistant to see if it’s really the exciting job you’ve always dreamed of.

Be prepared. Don’t expect to be an instant pro at your new job. Even if you’re staying in your current position and learning new skills, understand that it’s OK to make mistakes. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions, it is often encouraged. Also, be willing to take a pay cut. Often times, when you’re venturing out on a new career, it may be a lateral move or even a step down at first.

Enjoy the ride. Be proud of your transition. It takes hard work, dedication, strength and courage to get the best results and become the best you. If you want to see a difference in your career, you must change your behavior. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Reinventing yourself and trying something new just might take you on an adventure you never dreamed.

The world is constantly evolving – from the environment to our jobs. If you allow yourself to change with it, you’ll continue to grow and prosper. Focus on the positives of change and keep your goal in mind.

Reinvent Yourself – Repackage Yourself

Yesterday, I talked about starting the process of reinventing yourself for a new career, or rejuvenating yourself in your current job. Today, I want to talk about what to do after you have found your new direction – repackaging yourself.

Even after individuals find their true passion, they still sometimes find it difficult to shed the old image and be perceived by others in a new way. By following these tips, you can showcase the new you to employers, as well as to yourself.

Tweak your résumé. Rewrite your résumé to reflect your new image. Regardless of whether you are venturing out on a new direction or just reigniting your passion in your old job, refreshing your résumé will help you stay focused with who you want to be and the direction you want to go. When updating your résumé, use a functional résumé format. This type of résumé focuses on specific skills you possess, instead of the progression of jobs that a chronological résumé format focuses on. Write your résumé with an emphasis on your new career goal. The point is to make sure potential employers can see who you are now, not who you were.

Change inside and out. If you list on your résumé that you’re an outgoing and innovative salesperson, make sure your appearance reflects the attitude. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If you have an outdated hairstyle or are in need of a new wardrobe, search online, peruse through current magazines or contact an image consultant for what’s in style in your particular field of work and region. Improving your outward appearance will project confidence to employers.

Make the connection. You have pinpointed your new career goal. Your résumé is updated, and your looks reflect the inner you. Now, you’re ready to start making connections with prospective employers to boost your current career track. When searching for jobs in your market, try attending job fairs and networking with friends to find out what jobs are out there. This will help you test the waters and get the inside track on companies without having to make a commitment. Staying in your current position? Try scheduling a one-on-one meeting with your boss. You can use this time to inform your boss that you’d love to try some new projects or learn new skills.

Creating a new image can be a tough process, but by following these tips, you can make the transition a positive experience.

Tomorrow, I’ll offer tips that will help you sustain the new you.

Reinvent Yourself – Take the First Step

We recently received a question from a reader inquiring whether or not she wasted her time working in a specific industry for too long. She wants to get into a new field of work but feels as though future employers look at her past employment history and typecast her in to one role. Many workers seeking new direction face this issue. So what’s a job seeker to do? This series will highlight general strategies for reinventing your career self.

Whether you’re new to the workforce, considering a career change, or just trying to stay ahead of the competition, reinventing yourself just might help you land or keep your dream job. Reinvention is simply the process of re-examining yourself, taking what you’ve learned over time, evaluating who you are as a person and committing to a positive course of action. Over the next few days I’ll offer several tips on reinventing yourself and starting a new career!

Go back to the beginning. Take a moment to re-evaluate yourself and reconnect with what gets you excited. Assess yourself. Look at the things that you loved to do as a child. If you have a hard time figuring out your passions, ask your friends or colleagues what they think you excel at, or what they believe your strengths are.

Unite the old with the new. Once you have figured out your passions, match them to the skills and experience that you have gained throughout the years, whether during school, at work or through a hobby. This process will help you determine what jobs and careers will best utilize your strengths. Matching your skills and experience with your passions will show you what career choices are most suitable for you. Even if you want to stay on your current career track, this exercise will help you re-energize and focus on what you like best about your job.

Research your findings. Look at what you’ve learned so far in the process to discover the career path that complements your strengths. Ask questions of other individuals within that field. For example, ask those in your desired field about what they would change about their jobs, the pros and cons and tasks they perform on a day-to-day basis. Their answers will help you get a better understanding of what might be expected of you if you picked that career path. If you’re trying to rejuvenate yourself in your current job, ask yourself or someone in your field or company the same questions. This will help pinpoint what it is that you truly love about your job.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss tips on how to repackage yourself from updating your résumé to putting yourself in the right position to move into a new career.