There are a lot of theories out there regarding mentors. I want to share with you my thoughts and best practices that worked for me.  There is an old school thought that everyone should have a mentor and I agree to a certain extent; however you need to look at the bigger picture. I don’t believe there is just one mentor out there that is perfect for you for the rest of your life. I would like to propose that you consider creating a personal Board of Advisors over one individual mentor, and take a competency approach to mentoring. What does that mean?

  1. Board of Advisors: There are typically one or two people that you call when you have a big decision to make. You look to these people as your trusted advisors and sometimes just a sounding board. They are trusted individuals whom you respect and want to emulate in some fashion. In your career, your Board of Advisors should include a person who:        a) knows you from your early career; b) is currently working for the same employer as you  It is important to fill your board with people who have knowledge both within and outside of your company. Politics play a big role in organizations: someone who can guide you and give you advice on how to play the game is a valuable gift to you and an asset. You also want outside opinions, diversity of thought, and even gender, are all important. You typically talk to the Board of Advisors once or twice a year unless there is a major shift or career change. I would suggest that at least once, if not twice, a year, you catch up over a meal and listen as well as speak. c) is not in the same field as you nor in the same company, but an individual you would consider a good business person.
  2. Competency Based Mentoring: Finding a mentor who is a perfect match for you is tough. First thing you need to do is make a plan. Map where you would like to be in 2 years, 5 years and 10 years. Set goals and think BIG!! Develop a list under each of the goals of competencies that you need to develop to be ready for these roles. Then map those competencies to people you think do them very well. For example, if my next goal is to move to the next level, I know I need to have the ability to present to large crowds. I would identify a short list of people who I think are excellent at presenting keynotes. I would then ask each of them for 1 hour of their time and interview them on how they developed the skill. It is very important you come 100% prepared for the meeting: you should provide an agenda in advance of the meet-up. You ask the questions, you take notes and you always offer your help in return. Keep a pulse on jobs inside your company as well as externally. Request informational interviews with companies or teams you may want to work for in the future even if there is a not a job opening. When jobs are posted in the future, you will be fresh on the hiring manager’s mind. A hiring manager has a candidate in mind for the job 90% of the time when the job is posted. You need to, and have the ability to, get ahead of the curve.
  3. Hold yourself accountable: Write your own development plan with your goals. Set quarterly deadlines to develop the competencies and hold informational interviews. Put those deadlines on your calendar. Meet with your manager and ask for their input.

Finally I want to give a shout out to my mentors and Board of Advisors who have been amazing to me over the years, you know who you are: Barry, Ellyn and Jane.  From my early days at Merck till my days at Microsoft, I have met amazing people who knew how to help me grow and develop professionally. I had a male manager who knew what I needed to do get to the next level. When he would advise me, I would often say, “I am not sure I can do this with kids” or “I will wait till they are older”. He often pushed and challenged me without putting additional pressure on me.

He was right. I could do it.   Not only could I do it, but I could do it better than I could have ever imagined.  I look back now think…”what’s next on my list that I can accomplish?”

Buzz-Worthy Lesson: Build your Board of Advisors. Write down a development plan, set goals and deadlines. Dream Big and inspire others!