Question any leader or executive about their success and eventually they’ll tell you that their mentor played a big role. Today, however, there is no Jedi-Master Yoda, wise and powerful, taking on people and unlocking the paths to business immortality. The onus is now yours to find numerous mentors, build the relationships, learn from them, weave the skills together and create your successful identity. No single master, but a collage of mentors.
The need for mentorship is more profound than ever: success without mentors is nearly impossible. Compounding the issue is that choice assignments in this hypercompetitive world are in short supply. So it’s the mentored employee who will be presented with better opportunities, faster promotions and top salaries.
Even worse, research reveals job performance does not impact what happens to most people in most organizations. And that includes the effect of your accomplishments on those ubiquitous performance evaluations. Today, mentor navigation is priority one.
The key to success, then, is to focus on accessing mentors and doing it with a great deal of forethought and street smarts. You should be thinking and asking yourself what do I need to learn and why do I need to learn this? What will it do for my growth? How will it impact my relationships? What will it do for the organization? And most importantly, what will this do for my career? Really knowledgeable mentors will address these questions before you ask them.
So if your firm offers a formal mentoring program, take it with a grain of salt. A study from 2006 found that the most significant factor in success is the ability to choose one’s own mentor. If possible, work to select and access the brightest and best mentors for yourself. Don’t make the mistake of believing that life and work are fair. That will leave you unprepared for the challenges and competition of the real world. Mentors and mentees are like residents and attending physicians at the top medical schools: not only do residents pay attention to the potential chemistry, but they also advocate for the most capable physician mentors for their future practice.
Finally, what most also don’t yet know is that to be successful as a manager and leader, you need not one kind of mentor but four: skills, relational, career and strategic.
(See part II next: Skills and relational mentors.)