Making the Most Out of Mentors

Making the Most Out of Mentors

People are quick to understand that mentors matter, but fewer understand how to really get the most out of one. Our contention is that just as with any other strategic resource, a key predictor of what will make one executive more successful than the next is the ability to leverage a mentor. It isn’t enough to collect mentors – you must be purposeful in how you select and deploy them! Your ability to do this will have a dramatic impact on the trajectory of your career.

The first step in becoming more strategic in your efforts to make the most out of your mentor is to understand how what you need from one varies in some predictable ways over the course of your career. For example, early in your career the best mentor is someone who can play Yoda to your Luke Skywalker. At this stage, what you need more than anything is a sage advisor – someone who has seen, and understands, it all. This individual might not be very highly placed in a company – in fact it would be difficult for someone early in their career to get access to someone near the top of the organizational chart. They do likely have long tenure in the company. They understand the politics and the people – and they understand how the organization really works.

As you move along in your career and absorb the lessons this first mentor offers what you need changes. The second mentor you need to seek is a rising star. This individual needs to be several steps above you on the organizational chart – they need to be far enough above you so that you won’t become a threat to them; but if they are too many levels above you it will be difficult for you to have access in order to make a case for their investment in your success. This mentor is in a great position to help you learn what it takes to accelerate your career in the company and if you prove you merit their time you may be pulled along with them.

Finally, as you begin to operate as a highly placed executive the most important thing for you to find in a mentor is someone who is both willing and able to be persuasive as a truth-teller. You need to find a mentor who isn’t taken in by you, who will keep you honest, and who is so legitimate that you can’t trick yourself in to dismissing their opinions of your thoughts and actions. Such a mentor might not be available inside your company. Someone outside can certainly serve in this role, but it will be important that they really understand your company and its industry in order for them to be, as necessary, a strong devil’s advocate.

Consider where you are in your career now. Are you starting out? Are you in a position where your feet are firmly underneath you so you are ready to climb the organizational chart? Are you a more senior level executive who has trouble finding someone willing to challenge your thinking? Based on your answer, do you have the right mentor? How do you plan to act as a result?

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