Welcome to our new “Coach Me” series. Each week, our resident life and career coaches will answer questions from readers. To submit yours, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I graduated from college more than five years ago and, so far, I haven’t had a mentor at work. I keep hearing about how I need one, but my boss barely has time to respond to my emails, so I can forget about cozy sit-downs and advice sessions. Do you have any recommendations on how to find/approach a mentor who isn’t your direct supervisor? Thanks!
—Erica S., Columbus, Ohio
It’s unfortunate that the speed of business today barely gives most leaders enough bandwidth to do their own jobs – much less have “cozy sit-downs” with mentees. But before you write off your boss as a dud, it might help to reframe your expectations. A mentor relationship doesn’t have to be chock-full of one-on-one meetings. It’s great when it happens, but mentoring can also be quick check-ins as you pass in the hallway, too. As long as you feel like you’re growing from the relationship, it all counts. Still…I get it. You want to feel “mentored” — and you deserve to. So here are a few things you can do to find a someone invested in your success outside the realm of your boss:
First, identify a person you can learn from and — here’s the kicker — who you can also give to even if it's just platonic warm fuzzies. This could be someone in your office, your industry, or even a stranger on Twitter. (I’ve found not one, but two fantastic Twentors so trust me, it happens.) Find a reason to contact them in a non-needy, unpretentious way, e.g. “I love your work, I have a question about X, I admire your career path,” etc.
What you do next is really important so don’t skip it: give, give, and give. Send links to articles they might find interesting. Hand write thank-you notes when they do something nice. Forward their tweets. Introduce them to someone who can help their business. Continue to do this occasionally in a non-needy, non-clingy way. Don't ask for anything for weeks (if not months) and DON’T use the word mentor. It has a tendency to suck the oxygen right out of a relationship and shouldn't be uttered until at least a year in anyway.
When you do need help, feel free to reach out but — Captain Obvious alert — it better be something that doesn't overextend, isn't something you could easily do on your own or, once again, seems too needy. Start with very simple, emailed, advice-style questions that don’t have multiple paragraphs of explanation required and work up from there. Also important: Don’t start by asking for intros to their contacts, coffee dates with no clear purpose, or 'pick your brain' calls. (Really, please don't.) If the person does something nice for you or offers advice, thereby showing flashes of 'mentor' potential, do what they say as soon as possible and — equally as important — circle back and tell them how it worked out. Then, say thank you. A lot. Repeat as needed.
Emily Bennington is the founder of AWAKE EXEC, mindful leadership coaching for professional women, and the author of Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination.