There are certain necessities in life, and having a mentor is one of them. No matter where you are in your career -- just starting, rising, stuck, at the end -- you need such a coach. In fact, you need a series of them.
Where do you find them? Look around you and see whom you admire. Potential mentors are busy working in your department, in your organization, in your profession. They are not typically your direct bosses, who need you in your place (although, some who are promoted might take you with them). Search for outstanding people two or three levels above you in experience and talent. You will discover them talking in meetings and at conferences that you sign up for, even if you have to pay for it. Watch for those who are smart, on the rise (if they have not risen to the top already) and genuine. Seek out those whose advice you might value for ways to think through problems, tackle dilemmas, handle difficult (but critical) people and get noticed and tracked. In short, increase your opportunities. Imagine how they might guide you and, hopefully, have the power to nominate you.
But don't wait until they find you. You have to start the process. Compliment them after they have given a presentation, and tell what impressed you. Ask if you can talk to them about a project you are working on, one in which they have expertise. Don't think of it as asking them to sign on as your life mentor; instead, ask for their take on your work and a suggestion to make it better. Then report back what happened, what didn't. If their advice failed, think about whether you followed it well or if timing was against you. Sometimes they are wrong twice in a row, and you have to move on to another. It's not uncommon.
Continue to ask for specific advice along with initiating conversations about their careers and the state of their organization and profession. Celebrate their continued successes. It will make stronger bonds as well as underscoring what it takes. And, as you rise, look for other experts. Every CEO has a board to talk to; every smart politician has a kitchen cabinet, at the least. Every successful person turns to and relies on brilliant others to advise them. No one does it alone.
Thank them each time. An absent thank-you note is a sure sign of selfishness, ignorance or overload. But authentically successful people make time to write thank-you notes or email. Always. Sometimes, they even send a token gift of celebration. Some also remember birthdays. Think of mentors as your family, your work family, for whom you are always on your best behavior.
Find talent by working with it. Get yourself active by joining committees and taskforces in your organization. Certainly join and participate in professional associations. Or, consider civic, religious or political volunteering as well. Getting mentored is not a formal process, but you can learn this networking skill and make your way in. Sign up for unpaid work; learn by doing and watching those who do it well. Growth and leadership need development through belonging. Only through that process can chance be at your side.
Being catapulted up by mentors is an education in itself. You'll learn many skills, technical and strategic savvy, along with the nod from someone who does more than mentor you -- someone who can sponsor you and nominate you for a position for which you would otherwise not have been considered.
The unspoken rule is that you must show yourself to be one of them. By demonstrating your work and your relationship, you gain their trust.
Taking the risk of connecting to sage others, over and over in your careering progress, will yield unimagined opportunities. And it will be a model for what you will do for others, in turn.
Make your luck happen!