If you’re looking to develop your leadership skills, it’s hard to find a better way to do so than through mentoring. By getting mentoring for leadership from other leaders in the organization, you can grow in a number of ways. Mentoring can help you broaden your perspective, practice and develop key interpersonal and communication skills, help you grow your network and build relationships, and help you define and clarify your leadership philosophy.
However, it’s not always easy to find a mentor that’s right for you. Typically, unless you’re paired with someone in a formal mentoring program, you can’t be as direct as calling someone up and asking them to be your mentor. Why should someone invest their time in helping you develop? What are you hoping to gain from a mentoring relationship? What are your mentoring expectations for the relationship? These are questions you should think about before pursuing a mentoring for leadership development.
Consider the following tips for finding a mentor to help you develop as a leader:
Ask Other People for Feedback
All developing leaders have “unseen areas,” that is, things they don’t know about themselves. To grow, it’s important for the new leader to get feedback, increase their self-awareness, and make changes in order to improve.
For example, when deadlines are closing in, a new manager will sometimes try to do all the work themselves rather than rely on her team. After all, when she was an individual contributor, this was how she handled deadlines: rolling up her sleeves and working long hours. However, in the process she alienates her team by sending the message that she doesn’t trust them to do the job in time, and sets herself up for burnout long-term. In situations like this, it can be challenging for a new leader to understand how their actions are limiting their ability to perform, since the same behavior worked so well in the past.
Unfortunately, many (if not most) professionals don’t get enough feedback on their performance. Many times, their manager is too busy or doesn’t have the skills to give effective feedback. Therefore, a new leader should seek out feedback on their performance from others.
Asking for feedback from others is a great way to find a mentor informally. It can signal to others that you’re ready for more development and are willing to put in the work. Ask to meet with others in your organization who are well-respected to discuss how to improve your performance. Typically, it’s common to target people who are two levels above you in the organizational hierarchy. After you receive feedback, there may be natural next steps (like working on your communication skills) that will spark a mentoring relationship.
Consider Group Mentoring
Sometimes, there can be more people in an organization that need mentoring than there are good mentors available. If this is the case at your organization or in your industry, consider group mentoring.
Group mentoring has some added benefits for the mentee over traditional one-on-one mentoring. First, it allows the mentee to If you’re looking to connect with like-minded peers, group mentoring can be a great opportunity. Second, you’re able to connect with several mentors at one time. Third, many group mentoring opportunities tend to be more structured, with group mentor training available or even an experienced facilitator.
Group mentoring also avoids some of the common mentoring challenges, like finding a mentor with which you have “chemistry.” Because the mentoring is done in a group setting, the specific interpersonal relationship you have with any one mentor isn’t as important.
Seek Out Mentoring Thought Leaders
Not all of your mentors have to be people that know you. Some of the best leaders cite influential mentors that they never met face-to-face: instead, they learned through reading their books, attending their workshops, or listening to their podcasts or other media. Finding mentoring thought leaders can help you self-reflect on your experience, and help you solidify your leadership philosophy.
Look for authors or other famous figures that you respect. Ask others about their influences to find excellent thought leadership. Carve time out of your week to spend time with your mentoring thought leader, whether it’s reading a book or watching a TedTalk. Write down your reflections, lessons to remember, and any action items.
Keep Going Even When It Seems Hard
If you’re growing as a leader, there is likely to be some point in the mentoring relationship in which it feels challenging to continue. Maybe your mentor has given you some constructive feedback that hits close to home, you encountered a setback at work, or you’re encountering other mentoring challenges. It can feel easier to just throw in the towel and quit pursuing mentoring for leadership. However, as a mentee, you’re responsible for driving the relationship. Dig deep, follow up with your mentor, and stay the course. Share your struggles and ask for advice and feedback. The rewards are worth it.
Part of leadership is about taking initiative. By seeking out mentoring for leadership, you’re taking the first steps towards becoming a better leader.