#CareerClimb: 5 ways to make the most of your mentor relationship

Close up portrait of a young african american woman looking out window when working on laptop

I started working when I was 19 years old and from the get, go understood the value of a mentor from my first boss. I learned the importance of networking and asking for help and guidance from people who definitely had more experience and were more than happy to give me feedback. Over my entire career in the past 16 years, I’ve always had a mentor sometimes even six at the same time and there’s no way, I could not have accomplished any of my goals without them. Infact at every milestone, whether I was working for someone or working in my own business there’s been someone in the background who’s been my sounding board.

In my opinion, mentors are crucial in helping people connect the dots between their abilities, potential, goals, and successes. They provide the advice, confidence, and the network that allows people to find their path to success. I’ll give a few tips on how to maximize on mentorship opportunities based on my own experiences.

1. Actively seek out mentors

It’s easy to know that mentorship is a good idea but another thing altogether to ask someone whether they could be your mentor. Get over your fear and ask, the worst thing that could happen is being told no which puts you in the same position you began with. Do your research and give them reasons why you think it’s worth their time to guide you.

2. Don’t restrict yourself to one mentor

Find mentoring moments with different people at various levels to gain valuable insight. I’ve had lawyers, entrepreneurs and others who weren’t even in my profession walk with me. Location shouldn’t also matter as we have the technology. I once had a top businesswoman from Canada mentor me for a year and we did it through scheduled calls on Skype.

3. A mentor isn’t your personal psychologist or career counselor

Remember that they are also busy and will not have the time to meet with you or talk you through everything 24/7. You need to be open to being to receive advice from a respected person at any given moment. There are times when I’ve simply had lunch or dinner with a person I have admired and used that time very well to learn from them knowing that I won’t have another opportunity. I’ve also grabbed opportunities at events or flights to seek people out even for 20 minutes. This also requires that you know yourself well and have the ability to articulate your ideas and goals.

4. Be open to criticism

A good mentor will get you out of your comfort zone. They will challenge your thinking, ask hard questions and keep pushing your boundaries. Don’t be afraid to receive tough love and lessons. I remember once being in a crisis and went running to one of my mentors crying woe is me. He actually laughed at me and then told me I needed to grow thicker skin. I didn’t see that coming and it felt horrible but I needed a dose of tough advice.

5. Respect your mentors.

Do this by keeping time for your appointments whether it’s in person or via phone. Be prepared with specific requests or questions and be focused during the meeting. Take an interest in what they do, celebrate their achievements. Remember they are as human as you are so thank them for their time and give them feedback on the outcomes. Keep in touch with them and in the loop about your projects. Always remember that your mentor is a confidant who gives you direction and options; however, at the end of the day, you still have to make your own choices and decide what path to take. That responsibility still lies with you.

Lastly, I challenge all of you to give back by simply sharing your experiences. Someone else can always learn from you there might be a younger person in primary school, high school or university already looking up to you or just needs a sounding board.

This article was written by Lapid Leaders Africa speaker Hope Mwinzi. To find out more about the Lapid Leaders program visit their website here.

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