August 10, 2017

To have or mentor or not? That is the million dollar question…

This question came to mind as multiple opportunities arose, new ideas and plans for my future were emerging and shaping into some sensible shape.  I now found myself pausing and saying “ok…now I need a mentor because I need to tell them about my fabulous life goals and plans and I need them to tell me what to do next.”  With this mindset, I found myself pausing the fountain of thoughts until I successfully secure a mentor.

Time went by and I still hadn’t found a mentor.  All the while, I remained stagnant and ceded to take any actions on any of my life plans…because, you know…I needed someone to tell me what to do next.  I became focused solely on the present, rather than where I see myself  1, 5, 10 years from now as a professional, servant leader, and businesswoman. This not only caused stagnation but frustration as well.  It wasn’t until a moment of practicing self-care  that I realized I was looking for someone to tell me what to do next, rather than counting on myself.

This self-realization was also supported by an interview Inc. Magazine conducted with ABC Shark Tank host and well-known businessman and investor Mark Cuban about the role of mentorship in his life.  But before I get into what he said, let’s define Mentorship. Mentorship, according to Management Mentors’ website, is defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced person (mentor) assists another(mentee) in developing skills and knowledge that will enhance the less-experienced person’s professional and personal growth. There are many advantages to mentorship as it provides one an opportunity to evolve and grow.  Who wouldn’t want someone to help coach them along to an even greater person!

Let’s get back to Mark Cuban.  Cuban, in his blunt and direct nature said he didn’t believe in mentorship.  More specifically, he said there’s never been anyone he felt the need to consult and ask what he should do next. At some point, he said, he has to be responsible about the knowledge he knows and what he does with it. Realizing that mentorship’s ultimate goal is about sharing some form of knowledge, he makes sure to utilize a vital trait important to leadership: listening and learning.  By listening and learning it provides him the fuel to “fire, aim, and go” in leading.

So what’s the bottom line here? Should we have a mentor or not?  That, my fellow leaders, is up to your volition. Should you want to identify a mentor, like a relationship, you must select with care.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when selecting a mentor:

  • Goal: Before you commence any new relationship, ask yourself “what is the goal?” Is it guidance on how to be a successful leader? How to position yourself to progress in the public policy industry? Once you have a clear goal of what you want, the benefits in mentorship will be impactful.
  • Step out of your comfort zone: It’s easier to identify someone in the office building next door or town hall one town away, but open your horizons. If your “pie in the sky” career role resides in Hartford, Connecticut and you hail out of the garden state, take the chance (and Amtrak) and meet that person.
  • Clarity: If you successfully secured a mentor, make sure the level of commitment will be mutual. Do you both agree to meet once a month? Once a quarter? Once that is set up, let the growth begin!

Perhaps you’re not in the space to identify a mentor, but you could use some support.  Here are a few recommendations:

  • Attend conferences, seminars, and workshops: There is nothing like a conference centered around your area of expertise. It is targeted and plentiful of the latest developments in your career industry, provides an opportunity for you to refresh your skills and lastly, you connect to the industry’s top experts.  During these events, be sure to build relationships, network and follow up with people of interest. Leadership Newark facilitates public policy seminars, as well as public policy summits and they are prime examples of learning and continuing to develop your skills to serve as a professional and leader.
  • Conduct Informational Interviews: Not ready to pursue a mentor or perhaps it isn’t of interest? Informational interviews allow you to have an informal conversation with someone who works in an area that you find of interest.  During this interview, you meet with someone who will give you information and advice to help you continue exploring personal or professional growth. More importantly, you want to learn about how that very person navigated through the career industry that interest you, so once again, listen and learn. Take the chance and invite that person out for coffee or lunch (treats on you) and have a powerful 30-minute conversation.
  • Take a chance on yourself: Overthinking and overplanning can lead to delayed and missed opportunities, and we’ve all experienced this at some point of our lives. If there is a leadership role you’re interested in, follow Cuban’s process of “fire, aim, and go”.  For example, if you’re interested in serving on a nonprofit or charter school board, take action.  Attend one of Leadership Newark’s board service training and get the proper tools to prepare you (aka “fire”).  If this enhances your interest, attend the matching reception to meet nonprofit leaders in need of board members (aka “aim”).  And finally, identify the organization or school you’d be interested in serving and set up a time to meet with the leaders.  Before you know it, you’re serving as a board member and utilizing your strong leadership skills (aka “Go”)

Fellow leaders, to have a mentor or not is indeed up to you, but it shouldn’t hinder your next steps, because as leaders, you know exactly what to do next.