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Finding Your Company’s Yoda

yodaHow to Use Knowledge and Experience from a Mentor to Advance Your Career

What do Mickey Goldmill, Kesuke Myagi and Yoda have in common?  As mentors, they each saw something of value hidden away in their protégés, and they were bound and determined to bring it to light.  And through consistent effort, these movie mentors brought forth greatness in Rocky Balboa, the Karate Kid and Luke Skywalker.  Although these characters may be fictional, the message is still invaluable:  mentors, whether in the boxing ring, a dojo, a galaxy far, far away, or in business, are critical in helping you enhance your performance and move forward in your career.

Although hard work and talent are important, a lot of times people overlook the importance of knowing others who can help you, who can put your name out there when there’s a project to head, or who can save you a seat at the table.

That is especially true for women and minorities.  In companies that don’t already have abundant diversity, the norm is usually to look for leaders among those who already resemble the management team, i.e., white and male employees.  Mentors, however, who are aware of the talents of some of the lesser known employees, can identify people who aren’t usually asked to join the team at the management table but whose insights and talents can benefit the company.

Some companies may have structured mentoring programs, but the best one is the one you set up for yourself.  In order to work, there has to be a genuine fit, a real synergy between the mentor and the mentee.  Otherwise, both are just going through the motions.

If you’re looking for your own mentor, which I absolutely encourage, it’s essential to look for a person at least two levels above you in the company.  He can’t be your peer or just one level higher because, although he isn’t your direct boss, he needs to have the status required to influence decisions about your development.  Consider the people at that level and determine who would be a good fit for you, who can provide information and guidance to you, and who is likely to champion you to others.

Once you’ve found your potential mentor, your approach should be well thought out.  If you try to start your relationship by immediately asking him or her to give you something, such as a recommendation for a promotion, you’ll ruin your chances for a mentorship right away.  Most people, quite understandably, don’t want someone they don’t know very well coming and asking for that kind of help.  But, if you ask questions seeking wisdom, you are more likely to get support.  If you say that you are interested in advancing your career and are looking for ways to increase your value to the company and how did they do it, well, that’s certainly going to garner a more positive response.  Mentors can tell very clearly when you’re genuine.  They can also see when you’re just using them as a means to an end.  So be clear on your intentions before you even start.  When you have found your mentor, try to meet about once a month.  This isn’t overly demanding, but it makes sure your mentor keeps you in mind.

By establishing an authentic relationship with a mentor, you give yourself a unique opportunity to power your career forward.


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