A mentor is a valuable thing. Having someone who wants to help you succeed in your career and can help coach you through it can make the difference between being stuck at entry level and climbing up the corporate ladder. When we look for a mentor, we often look for people who are leaders in their industry. You stalk the person on LinkedIn and hope to find a way into this leader's life.
But, Maureen Hoersten, chief revenue officer of LaSalle Network, a staffing and professional services firm headquartered in Chicago, has a completely different idea: Instead of looking up, look to the side--to your co-workers. She explains:
A colleague-based mentorship is a creative approach to professional growth and has different advantages. The feedback is specific to the company and will work more effectively because the mentor will understand the leadership or management dynamic and best practices for working with them. They also can see firsthand how the employee works and their daily habits to provide feedback in areas that weren't planned to be discussed. Feedback can be immediate when someone is in the same office, too.
It's a radical idea. Instead of looking toward someone in a different company who can't give you company-specific insights or whom you have to schedule months in advance to grab a coffee with, you can run into your mentor in the hallway. Your mentor is in the same meetings and copied on the same emails.
Whom to choose?
Of course, it's a two-way decision. You can't just announce, "Jane is now my mentor!" That's kind of creepy and imposing. But you can seek someone out. Hoersten cautioned that your first choice may not be the obvious person whom you love to hang out with:
Don't seek out a friend at the company as a mentor. Who you choose as a friend and who you want as a mentor may not be the same person. It's important to find dissimilar people who don't think the same way you think. It will help spark a more creative conversation on how to resolve a problem or address an issue. In any instance, a colleague-based mentorship can create a lasting relationship that could go far beyond the immediate benefits and continue for years to come.
People who don't think the same way you do can sometimes cause a bit of conflict, but it's invaluable to your success. Someone who has different ideas can help you see things that you wouldn't see on your own.
Treat it like a formal mentorship.
It can be tempting to let a co-worker relationship evolve into just a co-worker thing, and you don't want that to happen. Hoersten says that it's critical that you hold effective meetings, which includes keeping notes and making plans for the next steps. When you first ask someone to be your mentor, document what you want to achieve. If you go in and say, "Can you mentor me? I've heard it's important," and that's it, you won't make a great impression.
Don't give up on the idea of mentors if this doesn't work in your company or with the co-worker you think would be the most helpful. It doesn't mean you're a bad person if someone doesn't want to be a mentor--some people just don't like that sort of thing.
Her final advice: "Seek co-workers with great reputations and acknowledged potentials, and spend as much time with them as you can." Great idea as you seek out your next mentor.