How to find a mentor on your way to the top
I want to become an executive one day, but I feel I need a mentor who can help me learn and develop the skills needed to get into the C-Suite. However, asking someone to be my mentor seems somewhat out of vogue, as well as time-consuming on the part of the mentor. Is there a more modern way to secure a mentorship and learn from someone who has the career I’m looking to achieve?
Mentorship is one of the most important things that happens in business (and in life), and in my opinion, it never goes out of style. Though it may seem like a daunting task to identify a mentor, I bet you are already surrounded by people who would be happy to take on this role. So, how do you find them and how do you ask for their help?
First of all, set aside the notion that you need to find one perfect mentor. In my experience, you’re better off with a network of mentors who each bring something different to the table to help you grow in a specific way. Plus, this approach alleviates the pressure you feel of taking up too much of each mentor’s time and focus.
As you look for mentors in your current organization, look for leaders who have the big picture context of the company―these are the people who can help you chart a realistic course to the C-Suite, or potentially help you realize your goals aren’t achievable within the bounds of that company or division.
Early in my career, I felt that I needed to be formally trained before taking on a new project, which caused me to hold myself back. One of my mentors saw that pattern and challenged me to stretch myself. With that advice, I started raising my hand for every opportunity, even if it meant moving laterally or backward in my career.
During this period, I worked in product management, M&A, technical architecture, production integration, and engineering management. This “jungle gym” approach prepared me for a senior leadership position because it helped me understand differing roles across the organization and how they intersected with one another. Wearing a bunch of different hats also gave me the opportunity to learn new skills from different teams and led me to new mentors along the way.
How do you reach out to a potential mentor? Personally, I believe it’s best to ask a person directly. This could be a short note with what you are hoping to achieve in your career and why you think they’d be a good person from whom you could learn. Add in the time commitment you are seeking from them, such as a lunch meeting every other month.
If you are hesitant to reach out directly, groups―both inside of your organization and your industry―are a great way to connect with mentors and others. For example, I helped start a group called “Women at Domo” a few years ago. What started as a small group has blossomed into a close community and an opportunity for employees across disciplines to connect and build relationships.
One young woman I know at Domo works in a different department by day, but through Women at Domo she has been able to get an outside perspective of her department and field. It’s been fulfilling to see her take on more responsibility and get promoted―all through her own merits. She had the skills for these moves but needed some advice to unlock and translate her value to our company. We all underestimate the value of having a cheerleader.
The best advice I can give here is to go for it. Reach out to people you are inspired by or whose work you think is exceptional. They’ve certainly had people help them get to where they are now and chances are they will happily pass it forward, as you will too.
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