The Value of a Mentor

In my work as a leadership coach I often request that my clients recruit colleagues to assist them in achieving their goals. That’s because leadership is a team effort and every leader needs others to direct and support their growth.

As a coach I can help provide focus, add perspective, and ask the hard questions, however, I cannot observe day to day behavioral change that contributes to the success of my clients meeting their goals.

Coaches can provide continuity and support; they also hold their clients accountable and maintain confidentiality.

But a coach cannot be there at the exact moment when clients try out new behavior in the workplace. They cannot witness risk taking as it happens. Unless I’m shadow coaching and happen to be there for learning moments, I am reliant on my client relating to me the details of what has taken place in these situations.

That is why it is so important to enlist others in your leadership development. And other people can be recruited both informally as well as formally.

You can informally enlist coworkers who can observe your efforts and provide constructive feedback in real time. Any trusted coworker can do this, but he or she needs to be asked. Most likely, he or she will be flattered and more than happy to help.

A mentor, however, should be more calculated and intentional both in choosing someone and in driving the relationship. A good mentor can provide experiential knowledge and a perspective from inside the system. He or she can help you navigate your organization and your career in ways you may be unfamiliar with.

Mentors may provide relevant cautionary tales and appropriate examples from which you can directly apply to your particular situation.

Studies over the past 40 years have repeatedly demonstrated that mentoring is the single most valuable ingredient in a successful career.

Some suggestions for what to look for in a mentor include:

  • Organizational Insight – Someone who has been in your organization longer than you and appears to have navigated it well could be especially valuable in your career growth.
  • Specific Expertise – This would be a person who has dived deeper into your functional role and really understands the nuances of what you do. This is often some senior member of your team or your own boss.
  • Unique Perspective – Often it is someone outside the organization yet closely aligned (ex. director on the board, corporate partner, third party vendor, customer) who can provide a different point of view that can broaden your own perspective.
  • Business Wisdom – Most likely this is a more experienced person either inside or outside your organization who can give you the advice you need to face the specific business challenges you face. Don’t dismiss those who moved to a different type of business or even retired.
  • Work/Life Balance – Those who seem to have it all together balancing the stress of a busy career as well as family life may be able to lend some insight into how you can accomplish it all as well.

Choosing a mentor ultimately depends on what you’re looking for in the mentor-mentee relationship. It should be a match not only based on your needs but choose someone you trust and feel comfortable being around. Regardless who you choose, be sure you are respectful of their time and guidance.

Working with a coach can help you identify what to work on, how to go about achieving it, and hold you accountable for getting it done. The people you work with are your best resource for supporting these efforts. And a mentor can help sustain your growth over the long term.

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