How a Mentor Can Be Your GPS to Unimaginable Growth and Success
Figuring out your path through your career can be done alone, but a mentor can make your life easier, your next step more apparent and help you grow in ways you never thought of.
You would never set out on a road trip without your GPS in place and a plan for the destinations you want to explore along the way. So why do we think we must travel through our careers alone?
We do not have to blindly bushwack our way through the woods. Others have traversed these paths before and are ready and willing to hand over the map they used to find the open sky. But they cannot give us a map if we never tell them we need it.
At least three-quarters of employees say mentorship is important to them, and yet only 37% of employees have mentors. A career is a lifelong journey — filled with twists, turns and roadblocks — and though a mentor cannot walk the path for you, they can make the trek easier, shining a light on the routes that run a bit smoother and the pitfalls that derail even the steadiest of drivers.
In an ideal world, we would receive honest feedback from our coworkers and managers. However, many people are hesitant to give even well-meaning constructive feedback out of fear they will offend someone. This is where a mentor comes in. The mentor's job is to deliver the "tough love" that others may feel uncomfortable sharing. They are the personal trainers of our career — pointing out when our form is off and pushing us to run that extra mile.
When our boss or manager offers feedback, what we hear is often clouded by fear. "Are they going to put me on a performance plan?" or "Am I going to lose my job?" A mentor provides a perspective outside of the chain of command whose sole goal is to help you succeed. Within this context, it's much easier to hear feedback without emotions clouding our ability to implement it.
I've seen this myself at my own company. We once tried to implement a Slack channel where employees could provide feedback to each other. The channel was either silent or tens all around with no constructive tips. We abandoned the project. Conversely, we recently brought in an external mentor for our developers. They worked with each developer to take a holistic look at their career, heightening their strengths and addressing their weaknesses. Divorced from the context of a boss or manager telling them what to do, the developers were eager for feedback and excited to try the new strategies offered.
There's nothing new under the sun. Whatever problem you may be facing in your career, there is someone else out there who has encountered it before. A mentor can help you avoid making the mistakes they made while also offering a fresh perspective and keen insight into the problem at hand. If they haven't experienced it themselves, they can likely point you in the direction of someone who has.
No mentor has every answer, and you may not always agree with their approach, but they can ask thoughtful questions and provide new context into areas we feel stuck. By talking to mentors about the problems and decisions we face, we can unlock pathways we hadn't considered before and make new (and better) decisions.
So how does one find this all-important mentor?
Your mentor does not need to be the CEO of the biggest company in the world. They simply need to be a little further ahead of you in their career or expertise. Reach out to someone you admire via Linkedin or ask your manager to help you find a mentor. At my company, we offer to pay mentors to advise our employees. I've reached out to strangers on Linkedin to ask if they'd be willing to mentor an employee, and they're usually delighted to do so. Those who weren't available have often sent referrals for mentors with similar experiences.
As a mentor myself, I've found that most of my mentees end up returning any benefits I offered right back to me. One of the investors in my company is someone I once mentored. He went on to build a successful company that sold at a high rate, and I have asked him for advice many times. Now, he is starting a new company and is coming to me for advice again. We flip-flop back and forth, providing support throughout the many different stages of our careers.
Moving beyond your relationship with a mentor, mentors can also bring new connections and networking opportunities that will enlarge your professional circle, providing a rippling effect of knowledge-sharing and mutual growth that expands with each new connection you make.
We cannot sit around and wait for the perfect mentor to fall in our lap, gracing us with their wisdom and guidance. Your relationship with a mentor can be one of the most impactful elements of your career, but only if you go out and find them.Don't wait to build a relationship with a mentor until your car breaks down on the side of the road or you get lost in the woods without a signal. Reach out to a mentor before the road trip has been planned and the hotel locked in — they might have a map filled with the secret swimming holes you can't miss, the phone numbers of friends with guest bedrooms and a recipe for the best road-trip sandwich that will sustain you for miles.
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