When considering the key drivers of professional development, having a supportive mentor to turn to for advice and to help hone leadership skills has to rank near the top of the list.
Emerging leaders and businesses increasingly recognize the value that mentors play in developing and retaining top talent in today’s dynamic business environment. A 2016 Deloitte survey of millennial workers around the world found that 61 percent reported having a professional mentor, and those with mentors reported greater satisfaction with their professional development. In addition, those who said they intended to stay with their organization for at least five years were more than twice as likely to have a mentor, the survey found..
The benefits of a quality mentor can be enormous. A mentor can model good behavior, observe you in a variety of settings and provide valuable feedback on what he or she observes. More broadly, an effective mentor can offer you an outside perspective that opens up opportunities you never even imagined existed. However, it takes the right person to help you realize your full professional potential.
Here are five qualities to look for when choosing a mentor.
It may seem a bit obvious, but a mentor can’t help you if he or she doesn’t have enough time. So first and foremost, choose someone who is willing and able to carve out time to meet and offer advice — and also someone who generally seems to be organized enough with their schedule to set aside a small portion for you moving forward.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone whom you see regularly. The latest research suggests that anyone can be considered a mentor — even if you only meet for an hour over coffee — as long as they provide quality, unbiased feedback on an issue that is important to your development.
Whether it’s a one-off meeting or a long-term mentorship, your mentor should be someone you feel comfortable approaching and asking for at least an hour to discuss issues of importance to you.
Rather than exclusively focusing on the here and now, the mentor should be willing to help you seek out and take advantage of opportunities for professional development over the long run of your career. This usually differs from a workplace coaching relationship, which is often more focused on specific tasks and goals that need to be completed.
The Deloitte survey found that among those who had a mentor, more than 90 percent were satisfied with the quality of advice and a similar share felt the level of interest shown in their development was good.
If you choose a highly regarded mentor within your company, your relationship with that person has the potential to propel your career forward because of the positive visibility. However, this shouldn’t be your primary consideration when selecting a mentor.
Instead, look for someone who has demonstrated success in their field and who has not only managed their own career well but can also manage others. Your mentor should have long-standing relationships in the organization and be known to handle difficult situations effectively.
Don’t shy away from a mentor based on the position that they hold within an organization. Experience and perspective of all kinds should be taken into account when seeking a potential mentor.
Consider their talent in any areas you wish to develop and their level of respect and influence within the organization. An external mentor can often provide many of the same benefits as an internal mentor, so don’t limit your options to co-workers. In fact, an external mentor may provide additional coaching expertise and greater perspective. An external mentor is usually most effective if they are within your current profession or industry.
Whether they work at your current company or not, your mentor should have clear expertise and knowledge — and it should be clear that he or she applied that knowledge in a successful manner.
A good mentor is willing to give honest feedback through constructive criticism — but always with the overall intention of problem-solving and professional development. Any feedback should be as specific as possible to ensure that it’s meaningful and actionable. If you’re doing something that warrants redirection or wholesale change and your mentor talks about it in generalities, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get that message.
If you’re looking to realize your full potential, connecting with the right mentor can give you a fresh perspective and open doors you may have never considered exploring. When done correctly, mentorship can be an effective component of professional development — it just takes the right approach.
Success Labs is a full-service, strategic organizational and leadership development company located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.