Mentoring is an incredible way of increasing your chances of success. Having a mentor provides you with experience, knowledge and advice that you just can’t attain elsewhere.
After all, what’s better – go through an experience alone, and cope with each demand and pitfall as they arise as best you can, or seek out the support of somebody who has been through it before you, who can advise you on what to expect, what to do, and what to avoid?
The answer seems obvious, but so few people actively look for a mentor to help them.
Why? Why would you not look for someone who can increase your skills and understanding in one fell swoop? It seems a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
For some people, it’s about embarrassment, they see asking for help as an omission of weakness, a sign that they can’t cope by themselves. For others, it’s simple laziness, the desire to maintain the status quo because of the perception that it somehow makes life easier overrides the desire to find someone who can make life better. For others, it’s that they’ve tried to find a mentor in the past, but either failed to do so or they feel they didn’t derive enough tangible benefit from it.
In the case of somebody who feels a previous mentoring situation didn’t work for them, I would be willing to bet money on the fact that they went into it without a proper understanding of what the experience could give them.
Any time you’re looking for a mentor, you should always ask yourself some fundamental questions right away – and be able to answer them. Without those answers, there’s no way you can fully understand what your needs and goals are.
As an exercise, set aside some time to answer the questions below, and see what information you glean from them.
What do you want from a mentor? Is it advice, stories, questions, their network? All the above, or something else entirely?
What difference will it make to you to have your ideal mentor? Why do you want their help, what are you seeking to change with their support?
What will you achieve with the help of your mentor? Do you want to pass an exam, work towards a promotion, expand your contacts?
What do you want to talk to them about? Life goals? The weather? Facts and figures?
How long and how often do you want to meet with them? Will you meet online or in person, and how practical is that in terms of making it happen?
Always make sure, if you want to go after a mentor, that before you’ve even approached them, you can answer those questions. It will help you decide if a mentor is right for you, and it will help the mentor realise whether they can offer you what you really need from them or not.
Also, write down a list of why someone would want to mentor you – this may sound arrogant, but it’s not. It’s vital. What is it about you that would mean somebody giving up their time and energy, even on an irregular basis, is worthwhile? It will also help build your confidence in yourself.
And what happens when you DO get a mentor – the reasons for success seem obvious, as do the challenges towards achieving it, but what are the most common reasons why people don’t get what they need even when they have a mentor?
Pairing yourself with someone at random. It happens, and more often than you’d think, especially if you haven’t defined your goals and needs as stated above. Somebody offers to mentor you, and you gratefully accept, because they’re more senior than you, and they have more experience than you…but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a good fit. Are they enthusiastic? Are they committed? Does their personality mesh well with yours? Talk to them first, spend some time asking them questions based on the criteria we’ve already spoken about, the criteria that you’ve defined as crucial to your success.
Not defining a mentor’s role. Again, the previous exercise will have helped you here. Are you after someone who can give you advice on certain situations, or who is able to introduce you to certain people?
Not allowing enough time for a mentoring program. When things get busy, mentoring is one of the very first things to get pushed back – it’s so easy for it to drop off the schedule, and if it’s allowed to drop off for too long, then the whole exercise is pointless. In order to mitigate this, make sure you plan properly. Set aside regular times for meetings, put it in the calendar, and stick to it whenever possible. Set objectives for each meeting, so you know exactly what you want to achieve before things even start.
Treating the whole process as a one-way street. A classic mistake many mentees make, is to assume that the mentor will lead the whole situation – that they are there simply to learn. Not true. Insight is valuable no matter who it comes from. Don’t be afraid to offer your own opinions, challenge something that you think needs to be challenged.
Failing to monitor progress. Possibly the most crucial element of all – if you don’t have an idea of what you’re achieving, and don’t know when you will have achieved everything you need to, how will you know if the situation is working for you? Also, your needs and, goals and expectations can and will evolve over time, so you need to ensure that your progress stays aligned with those changes.
Finding a mentor can be daunting to try and tricky to succeed in, but follow my guide, complete the exercise to define what you need, and ensure you keep track of the goals above, and you should find that your search for the perfect person to mentor you will be a huge success!
If you’re studying for, or looking to study for, your CMA designation, the Wiley Efficient Learning platform acts as your very own mentor.
It allows you to set aside and monitor the time you need to study, check your progress and, via a large database of knowledge and questions, test your understanding. It’s like having a study partner and mentor rolled into one.
Ask me how the platform can help you; I’m happy to give more information on why Wiley, the official publisher of the IMA, can help you pass the exam and achieve your dreams.