R U My Mentor?

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By Bill Kennedy - Wouldn't it be nice to find someone who has seen it all before and is willing to share their experience with you and show you the ropes? Or maybe it would be nice to find someone young and eager to apply their book learning to the real world. Either way, we're talking about the mentor / protege relationship (although in some circles it's called the mentor / mentee relationship). Every professional body on the planet should have a formal mentorship program like the Project Management Institute Southern Ontario chapter.

My Door Is Always Open

How many times have you heard that from someone senior in your company? Even with all the best intentions in the world, the reality is that neither you or your potential mentor probably have that much unstructured time that you can have general discussions about your career. Left to chance meetings, it won't happen.

Just waiting to be noticed, recognized and promoted is a low probability tactic as well. You may well be the only person in your organization who appreciates your potential!

Making the First Move

What if you were a Controller and really admired how the VP of Marketing ran her department. What if you walked into her office when she wasn't busy and said, "You run an excellent department. Your people cover for each other without complaining. They also enjoy working here and with each other. I would like my department to run that way. I'm taking a course in leadership and working on a plan for my department, but I would appreciate practical input from someone who understands what it's like working here. Would you have one hour a week to check in with me about how we're doing?" Who could say no to that?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Ask for a specific amount of time from your mentor (e.g. an hour a week). They are busy, but can probably find an hour a week.
  • Ask for help with something specific and something the mentor does easily. It shouldn't look like you're asking for a lot of their time or effort.
  • Limit the length of the relationship. If the project you want help with is successful, you can always go back and ask about something else afterwards.
  • The mentee sets the agenda. Always go to your mentor with a specific question or discussion point in mind. You don't want to waste the mentor's time.
  • The PMI mentoring program has participants complete a mentoring agreement that specifies what the mentee wants to accomplish as well as when and where the two will meet.
  • Don't be shy - if you don't ask for help, you won't receive it. You might be afraid that asking for help will be viewed as a sign of weakness, but usually the reverse is true. You are respected for realizing your limitations and working to overcome them.

What do mentors get out of the relationship? My experience has been that people are usually delighted to help someone who is sincerely looking to learn from them. It is truly a mutually beneficial relationship.

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