by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.
Whether you already know someone whom you would consider a mentor, or you think finding a mentor would help you advance your career, you may not consider the many ways they can learn from a mentor. Mentoring works best for those who are goal driven and understand how they can benefit from what a mentor has to offer. What follows are just a few of the roles a mentor can play for you that you should consider when working with a mentor.
1. A Seasoned Veteran.
The first, and most obvious, role a mentor can play is a teacher who knows the company and/or the profession. From this perspective, a mentor can share war stories, instruct on organizational or professional culture, and provide a model path for career progression. You can often shorten your learning curve by learning from someone who has been there before.
2. Entrée to a larger network
A relationship with a mentor can expand the size of your personal network significantly. In addition, a mentor can add to the composition of your network by introducing you to people outside your normal sphere of influence.
3. Safe place to discuss and get feedback on ideas
One of the greatest roles a mentor can play is a sounding board. When you have a trusting partnership with your mentor, you have a place where you can take your brilliant ideas and biggest worries. This safe place allows you to sound things out and get another perspective in an atmosphere where you will not be judged.
4. Big Picture Perspective
Whenever you find yourself bogged down with the multiple priorities you juggle, a mentor can give you a place to think beyond the current situation. Many times a mentor has been in your shoes before and can see what is really important based on her or his experience. A mentor can help lift your head above the trees and see whether you are still moving toward your larger goals. Also, since a mentor is often not wrapped up in your current situation, she or he can provide an outsider’s perspective that is free from personal agendas.
5. Catalyst for Moving Forward
More than helping you take a more strategic approach to what you do, a mentor can help you plot a course for going forward and be a source of energy and encouragement. Since a mentor is concerned more with the long term picture than near term activity, she or he can help you establish those bigger career goals and provide the support and drive for achieving them. The psychological commitment you make to a mentor for your goals can provide more motivation than trying to do it yourself.
Whatever the reason you have for working with a mentor, the key to success is a willingness to learn. As Dr. Seibert noted (see Mentoring in Practice interview), you can find mentoring where you least expect as long as you are receptive to it.