Mentoring: don't rush into it

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Mentoring only works when you’ve got a specific outcome in mind: a goal that you’re trying to achieve and a strategy that will see you realise it. Seeking a mentor before those goals have been clarified is a complete waste of everyone’s time, according to a leadership development expert.

The first step before establishing a mentoring relationship is to ask yourself what you want it to achieve. Without a goal in mind, it will be impossible to find the right person to be the mentor. “You must have a goal or a strategy – if you don’t have that, you can’t find the right person because it’s all about fit,” says Jennifer Dalitz from Australian-based leadership development firm Sphinxx.

As a process, Dalitz advised professionals not to rely on formalised mentoring programs and instead to form the relationship with the mentor themselves to ensure they get the kind of targeted advice they want for their own goals and development. “If you want to shine – if you want to stand out and be the kind of person who is put forward for future roles – then the process of finding a mentor is a valuable part of the mentoring experience because learning how to pitch yourself and put yourself forward is really important,” she said.

Setting goals

The process of finding a mentor shouldn’t start before the professional knows exactly what they want to achieve, according to Dalitz. The professional needs to ask themselves: Do they want to build visibility within the organisation? Do they want to build skills in a particular area? “The goal drives the question, otherwise there is no point in getting together, having a coffee with someone and a nice chat, then going away and life goes on – there’s no point in that and it’s a waste of time for everyone. So it has to be outcome-oriented and it has to be linked to the specific goals you want to achieve and the specific areas that you’re intending to work on,” Dalitz said.

Network with purpose

While many organisations have an internal mentoring program for graduates and new recruits, internal programs can be more effective. And with the advent of professional social networking and a resurgence in professional associations, professionals seeking a mentor have more ways than ever before to network and find the right person.

When it comes to networking, quality matters more than quantity, author of Are You Stuck in a Girls' Club?, Whitney Johnson said. One way of networking is to simply ask for introductions. By reaching out to influential people already in their network, professionals can get in touch with others. Being specific about the introductions they want, why they want them, explaining what they are trying to achieve and the kind of contacts that would help them get there all help.

As a guide, the process for those seeking a mentor might include:


  1. Clarify what you want: Determine what you want to get out of the mentoring relationship, what specific areas you’re looking to develop, and who you should target to help you in that specific area.
  2. Network: When it comes to identifying who you could reach out to for mentoring, it’s a matter of networking. You may find your intended mentor on LinkedIn, directly through a company, via informal networking, or even reading something they have written.
  3. Nail the pitch: If you decide to contact someone who doesn’t know you, you’ve got to put together a pitch as to why you want that person to help you. “If you’re going to invite them to have a coffee and ask their advice, you must give them an indication of the kind of advice you’re after, who you are and what you want to achieve – all in the same way you’d pitch yourself for any other opportunity,” Dalitz said.

The key to successful mentoring is to find a mentor who has the skills, knowledge and personal experiences that will help the person achieve their goals and develop the skills they need to work more efficiently and productively.


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