Community//

10 steps to getting and learning from a mentor

How my mentor set me up for success.

Mentors can help you advance ahead of your peers.
Mentors can help you advance ahead of your peers.

“You’ve got to be hungry!” My boss would yell across the office that we shared. I would duck as the pencil he threw for emphasis would whizz by me. As a new executive trainee in my first professional job after college, I had little understanding of what he was screaming about. Hungry? I’m starving by lunch time. He was talking about something else. He was talking about my dedication to success, to winning. To being the best. 

Steve was an unlikely mentor. A fresh New York City transplant to Los Angeles, he felt superior to everyone in the area. And especially to me, his new executive trainee who obviously didn’t know the importance of jumping to and taking down his pearls of wisdom every time he spoke. I was too shell shocked with his machine gun like outbursts and pronouncements. Yet if I was going to survive the three months trial period to become a full-time employee, I have to learn how to perform to his satisfaction.

Vacillating between hopeless despair, imagined retorts to him, and visions of running to HR to report him, I resolved that I was going to excel. I had little choice, I moved to LA for the job from Oregon and have used up most of my funds to get there. I was going to be so good that he, and the HR lady who thought Steve had just the style needed to up level the organization, would have to agree that indeed I was the top trainee of the year. Maybe even in the history of trainees.

How would I do that? First, I had to figure out what my job really entailed, and how I can accomplish and excel in it. I learned a lot from Steve. In his own strange way, he was my first career mentor.

Mentors show up in different ways in your life. They are there to help you achieve your potential. Sometimes you have to seek them out and persuade them to take you on. After my challenging experience, I have had many more supportive mentors. I have also refined how to identify, seek counsel, inspiration and wisdom from people who would be suitable mentors.

Mentors are a powerful and memorable way of learning and growing. Some friendships/bonds that grow from a mentor/mentee relationship may last a lifetime. One of my early mentors, long since retired and I still exchange holiday cards each year. Over the years, we and our families have become friends even though I left the industry we shared may years ago. I am forever grateful for his belief and trust in my abilities before I even had much faith in them. Marty B, thank you for your mentorship, I honor you and hold you in my heart. 

  1. Determine where you are in your career and life. Your personal and professional situation dictate the type of mentor(s) you would benefit from. You have to know what you need support in before you can look for the people who can help you.
  2. Spread a wide net for your potential mentors. Look for mentors inside your organization, in your industry and in your community. You may need more than one person to provide the breadth of knowledge, experience and connections you are seeking. Your mentor(s) may even be someone younger or in another industry. Focus on what you need, not on any preconceived idea of what a mentor should be. Be open to the possibilities.
  3. Learn about your mentor before you request to be mentored. Mentors by definition are excellent at their craft; that is why you are seeking their guidance. To persuade them to be your mentor, you have to understand what may motivate them to agree. What was their path to success? Are there similarities in your journeys? What about interests and avocations? 
  4. Determine what you can give back to your mentor. What value can you offer? Your enthusiasm and follow through? Your fresh perspective and grass roots knowledge? Mutual passions/hobbies? A way for them to support a rising leader like they once were? 
  5. Be respectful and honoring of their time and energy. It’s easy to get over excited and expect too much time and attention from your mentor. Remember that they are very busy and that they are serving you out of their goodwill. Be judicious about how much you ask from them. Honor your time commitments. If you requested half an hour, keep to that time; only extend if they initiate it. 
  6. Show results. Mentors are rewarded when their mentees accomplish positive outcomes from their advice and guidance. Highlight the good news when you communicate with them. 
  7. Give it time and your own efforts. Mentors are not magicians. They are there to point out how you may achieve more if you follow their insights based on their experience and broader knowledge. You have to devote the energy, time and focus to be successful. 
  8. Reassess as you progress. Once in a while even with all the efforts expended by both parties there is not a good fit. Or over time you and your mentor may diverge in interests. Be honest in your assessment of your relationship. Are you committed to the interactions? When you expend less than 100% effort, you will get less results. If that is the case, increase your attention and you will likely see improved outcome. If there are practical reasons for the reduced engagement, gracefully and gratefully disengage.
  9. Be appreciative. Find ways to give back. Show your gratitude to your mentor(s). Show them how you are flourishing because of their counsel. Follow through on the ways in which you can offer them value in return. Review #4
  10. Be a mentor. Offer to share your knowledge and insights with others. You learn more about what you thought you knew when you guide someone else. In the process you also expand your network and sphere of influence when you outreach to others. Mentoring is rewarding for your career, your sense of fulfillment and is a powerful way to give back as you climb.

Mentors are a powerful and memorable way of learning and growing. Some friendships/bonds that grow from a mentor/mentee relationship may last a lifetime. One of my early mentors, long since retired and I still exchange holiday cards each year. Over the years, we and our families have become friends even though I left the industry we shared may years ago. I am forever grateful for his belief and trust in my abilities before I even had much faith in them. Marty B, thank you for your mentorship, I honor you and hold you in my heart. 

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.