Mentoring Success: finding a great mentor and leveraging the opportunity

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time with people looking for advice about the next steps in their career. Each of these people has wanted something different from me – some have wanted to learn from the steps I’ve taken in my own career and others my opinion on the suitability of various roles and learning opportunities. Throughout my own career I’ve benefited from advice sort from people who had already achieved what I was looking to. Good advice has been essential to my own growth and advancement as well as that of many of the successful people I know.

Mentoring is a personal relationship, a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn. A trusted advisor or mentor can have a substantial impact on the quality of our choices and ultimately the level of success we are able to achieve. Finding and connecting with the right person is essential to success. Finding people who are willing and able to share valuable insights and guidance is an important opportunity for anyone looking to learn.

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Finding great mentors

While you may be fortunate to have family or friends willing and able to offer quality advice, it’s important to look for mentors and advisors outside of your immediate circle of influence:

  • Talk to people who may know people: ask close friends, colleagues, associates and anyone else you respect to suggest people you need to meet. Ask them to introduce you if they can.
  • Participate in networking groups that provide opportunity to form quality relationships. Exchanging business cards isn’t enough – get to know and build authentic relationships with successful people.
  • Think outside of the square – be open minded to where you might find good advice. For example, it may be your uncle’s best friend who has the experience and insights you need to tap into.
  • Trust: throughout my life the right teachers have turned up at the right time. While it’s important to proactively take steps to find people we can learn from, it’s also important to trust you will recognise new teachers when they arrive.

Choose wisely

Regardless of who has introduced you, use your own judgment about the extent to which you should trust the character and capabilities of a potential mentor. Understand the background of the person you are meeting and be clear about how their experience and approach can help you to gain the insights, learn the lessons or make the decisions you need to in you own career.

Look for a mentor who is an active listener. People who listen actively don’t simply sit back; they invest energy in the process. They sit up straight, focus, take notes, ask questions and repeat what they have heard to ensure accurate understanding. Active listeners use non-verbal gestures such as eye contact, nodding, smiling and expressions of concern to indicate their engagement in their conversations.

Look for a mentor who is an active listener. People who listen actively don’t simply sit back; they invest energy in the process.

Commitment. Both parties must follow through on the promises they make. Trust and respect are fundamental the success of any mentoring relationship and the extent to which both parties invest and commit to the relationship will underpin success.

Leveraging a mentoring relationship well

It’s up to you to make the most of the opportunity that comes with having a mentor. Invest time and energy, listen to learn and follow through with the agreements you make with your mentor. For the relationship to have any real influence on your learning and success, its up to you to take the actions necessary to apply the wisdom you gain.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice about anything you need to learn or improve. There truly is no such thing as a dumb question and if the person you’ve chosen as your mentor doesn’t understand that, it’s probably time to reconsider your choice. Go to any meeting with your mentor armed with the questions you want to ask. Don’t allow fear or hesitation to hold you back from asking what you really want to know.

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Ask for the time you need. People are free to say no if they are too busy to spend time with you. So ask for what you need and take what you can get. Know what you want to gain from the time you spend together and make sure you tell your mentor. The more prepared they are the more likely it is that you will get value from the time and energy you both invest.

Ask for the time you need. People are free to say no if they are too busy to spend time with you.

Be open and willing to share honest insight to your goals and aspirations, fears and hesitations. Only with full insight can anyone be expected to have a positive influence on what you learn and the choices you make. Understanding and influencing the way you think, feel and behave all matter to your mentors ability to play a valuable role in enabling your success.

Have you had any successful experiences with mentors in your life? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Featured image: Don’t Let Go.

karen gatelyKaren Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit or contact