If you want to advance in your career, it’s almost impossible to do it on your own. So take a step toward controlling your own destiny by getting the right people around you, so you can move confidently to the next level. For most of us, great mentors don’t just happen. We have to take off our blinders, look anew at the resources we already have, and make plans to welcome and draw in connections with people we admire and can learn from.
The onus is on you. It remains a great myth that your mentor will come to you with a set of instructions—the golden keys to your learning. Unfortunately, they just don’t have time for that. After all, the people we’d most like as mentors are usually busy, successful people with a million demands on their time.
Instead, we have to make it easy for them. The Center for Talent Innovation has extensively studied the phenomenon of sponsorship—essentially, mentorship on steroids—where the mentor not only gives advice and serves as a sounding board, but also proactively uses political capital on your behalf. This is a dream scenario, and for all mentor relationships, and especially sponsor relationships, it’s critical to recognize that the onus is on you, the “protégé,” to put in most of the effort.
Here are five things you can do in the next week to open yourself up to finding the mentor or mentors of your dreams.
1. Create a list of 5-10 people you admire—and write down why.
2. Decide what’s practical in terms of contact. If one potential mentor is a co-worker, perhaps you can set a monthly coffee date; if another is a long-time friend in another country, maybe you can plan a yearly meetup at a conference you both attend, plus quarterly Skype calls.
3. Make the ask. Whether or not you specifically call it “mentorship,” tell them you value their opinion and ask if they’d be willing to connect periodically (based on the ideal frequency you identified above) to give you feedback and share ideas.
4. Think through what you want to learn from them. You’re wasting their time if your meetings are “shoot the breeze” sessions. Come with a list of detailed questions and topics you’d like their feedback on.
5. Create a plan to give back. Where are they in their careers? What would help them most? Is it someone to comment on every blog post they write? A secretary to handle the logistics for the committee they’re chairing? Someone who can offer a perspective that’s not otherwise accessible to them? Think hard and come up with as many strategies as you can.
What are you waiting for?