May is upon us, and with Mother's Day quickly approaching, it is the perfect time to reflect on how our mothers -- and other mentoring figures -- have helped shape our lives. Oftentimes, mothers serve as our first true mentors. They teach us how to make our way in the world. Our mothers teach us how to put on clothing and how to tie shoes, how to behave in different situations, and how to speak politely with others. Yes, our mothers are the first to teach us the ABC's of etiquette: Attire, Behavior and Communication!
And just like mothers, mentors serve an important role as well. Whether you are looking to learn something new, polish your skills or simply to network, a mentor can be a powerful tool.
Step I ~ The Goal. Intrinsically you already know that mentors are important for personal and professional development. Yet, there is a good chance that you do not have a mentor. Why? The most likely reason is that you are not sure who to ask, because you have not figured out what you hope to gain. For example, if you would like to improve your writing skills, you would look for a published author, college writing instructor or journalist to be your mentor. But if you were looking to improve your familiarity with social media, a digitally-savvy high school or college student might be a better bet. Know your goal, and then choose your mentor.
Step II ~ The Seek. Once you know what knowledge, skill or ability you would like to focus on, you will need to identify potential mentors. Begin with your networking circles, as there is a strong chance that someone you know professionally, personally or philanthropically could be a mentor. Even if no one immediately comes to mind, you should begin asking friends, family, colleagues and contacts to provide a referral.
Step III ~ The Ask. Just as you would never propose marriage during a first date, do not scare away a potential mentor by using the "M" word too quickly during your initial interactions. If you ask someone to be your mentor too soon, they may presume you are asking for more time, effort and energy then they are willing to provide. Better to concentrate on establishing the relationship first. Just like when dating, start with small steps. Ask the potential mentor a targeted question or simply to meet for coffee.
Step IV ~ The Interview. Get to know the potential mentor. Not every person's communication style will be compatible with yours. A good mentor will often tell you things about yourself that will be difficult to hear. Ask yourself if you will be able to really listen to what this person has to say. Sample questions include: what one action or decision contributed most to your success? What organizations are you active in now? What books do you recommend? And, who are your mentors? Look for people who are inspiring, positive, uplifting, and who can help to guide you forward.
Step V ~ The Match. Understand what you are hoping to learn, and then match the mentor interaction as needed. There are many different types of interactions. There are the classic mentors, people with whom you meet with on a regular and on-going basis. There are one-time mentors who during that single interaction are able to share what you need to know. There are the occasional mentors with whom you meet only as specific situations arise. Any of these mentor interactions can be conducted in-person, by telephone, or via the internet.
Step VI ~ The Relationship. Chances are good that the same qualities which make this individual a good potential mentor will also assure that this person has multiple demands on his/her time. Be very respectful and take responsibility for managing the relationship. Politely request time with your mentor. Send a reminder confirmation a day or two in advance. Be sure to have a clear time limit and even a mini-agenda. Be on time, end on time, be humble and be grateful.
May is upon us, and as we take time to thank our mothers for their love, guidance, care and affection, consider what other mentors you need in your life. What are you hoping to learn? Our mothers are our first mentors, but they should not be our only mentors.