Ask the most successful people you know how they got where they are and they'll likely mention at least one mentor who helped them along the way. Whether you're on the giving or receiving end of an investment of time, energy and advice, it's important to see mentoring for what it is: A priceless gift. That's according to Steve Pogorzelski, CEO of Avention, a Concord, Massachusetts-based sales enablement and business information solutions provider. Whether you want to be a good mentor or find one who will help you get to the next level, here's what he says you need to know about the best mentoring relationships.
Praise is not necessarily part of the deal.
Many people say they want a mentor, when really they just want attention and strokes, not necessarily the kind of constructive feedback that results in personal and professional growth. "If you look at, for example, the greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, investors, they all eagerly accepted coaching or had great mentors," Pogorzelski says. "To me, those types of people, their curiosity and their self-awareness and their desire to be better drove them to seek people who could help them do that."
Silence breeds failure.
Good mentors help people grow through frank conversations that may be difficult to have. Mentoring managers, for example, give constructive feedback continually so that no employee should be surprised when it's performance appraisal time. "There's typically a large number of people who are surprised by their appraisals. And to me that's a sign of a weak or poor manager," he says.
The person being coached needs to able to withstand candid feedback.
Pogorzelski says people come into his office and want advice or feedback. "And I'll say, 'I'm going to hurt you. If you really want it, you're gonna get hurt right now. I'm only doing it because it's in your best interest, but you have to be ready to take it,'" he says.
Active listening and empathy build relationship.
And relationship is what keeps a mentor-mentee relationship working. Once it becomes obligatory, the benefit to both individuals quickly dissipates. "Relationships diminish over time because it's a check-the-box corporate exercise," he says.
Your mentor should be someone you admire and want to emulate.
Aligning yourself with someone because of his or her title or for political gain is the worst idea, Pogorzelski says. Don't have a wise person you admire in your life? Start hanging out at industry or incubator events and widen your pool of associations. "I would go to any type of venture capital gathering I could," he says. "And I would use the heck out of LinkedIn and try to garner as many introductions as I could."