Today brings a special guest post by Christopher Sell, someone I consider one of my leadership influencers. A while back, Chris gave me the honor of writing a guest post for his blog, The Wednesday Wake Up, and it’s my pleasure to share Chris’ leadership experience, specifically in the area of mentorship, with you today. Enjoy!
“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” – Donald Miller
When I finished my graduate studies at Michigan State University, I wasn’t completely confident in what my next career move should be. So I was very fortunate when I was offered the opportunity to be a part of the Career Services team at Western Michigan University. I knew very little about my new supervisor at WMU, but I quickly learned that she would be one of the more profound influences on my career.
My new boss was a quick study in my natural strengths, weaknesses, and work-style preferences. She met with me regularly – not to micromanage – but to show support for a young professional growing up in his first professional gig. She routinely found ways to put me in high-visibility roles, and identified opportunities for me to learn and grow in the industry. I was encouraged to attend summits, submit proposals for national conferences, and represent our department at community-wide events. Perhaps most importantly, she seemed intent on showcasing to me all of the possibilities inherent to the world of Career Services.
She did this in various ways, but it was very clear to me that she loved her job. And every day, her passion for helping students develop their career goals was on full display. Just watching her lead our team and work with students inspired me. Her love for the profession, and her confidence in me as a rookie professional, motivated me. I knew that I had found the right career.
And that’s what mentors do. They guide you, support you, and challenge you to become a better professional.
They inspire you to be the person you were meant to be.
The concept of mentorship can sometimes seem daunting to those who are just starting their professional careers, or struggle with reaching out to veteran professionals in their industry. Very few of us ever get formal training on how to find mentors and get the mentoring we are seeking. So, here are a few things you may want to consider when deciding how to develop inspiring mentors for your career.
Pick your Board of Mentors. Mentors are absolutely critical to your success as a professional. Think of mentorship like a Board of Directors that oversees a company. Much like a Board provides a vision and accountability for an organization, you can identify multiple mentors – seasoned professionals or young innovative minds making a name for themselves in the profession – and seek them out. Having the guidance of several rock stars or close confidants in your industry will ensure you get the chance to hear multiple perspectives and stellar advice every time you encounter a crossroads or key junctures for decision-making in your career.
It’s a two-way street. Many mentees mistake mentorship for a transactional, one-way relationship in which the wise sage provides guidance to the leader-in-training. However, most healthy relationships are marked by reciprocity and mutual effort. For a few years now, I’ve sent a short note, along with a small gift card to a local coffee shop, to each of my mentors during the holiday season. I know it’s not much, but it’s the least I can do to express my appreciation for their continued investment in me. There are all sorts of ways you can let your mentors know that their time and support do not go unnoticed.
It’s not too early to be a mentor to someone else. You might not have as much knowledge or experience as those inspiring you, but you can still play a part in guiding the next cohort of leaders. There are emerging leaders who haven’t hurdled some of the obstacles that you’ve already battled and conquered. One of the best ways you can thank your mentors is by paying it forward. Find ways to mentor others. It’ll be a rewarding next step in your journey as an aspiring leader.
Carefully seeking out leaders from a variety of industries to be good company on your professional journey is one of the best investments you’ll ever make. Mentors can provide you their perspective on next steps in your career. They can be your champion when you’re in need of some support. And they can inspire you to become the very best version of yourself.
So next time you’re hesitant about reaching out to a potential mentor, don’t be.
Your career will thank you.
Question: How have you found or developed relationships with potential mentors in your career?
Christopher Sell is a career educator and internship developer at Michigan State University. When he’s not helping students connect to their desired industries, you can find Chris penning his musings on leadership and life at his blog, The Wednesday Wake Up. He’s also a regular contributor at Daddy Daughter Time, where he writes his thoughts on being a new dad. You can connect with Chris on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter @ChrisFSell, and learn more about his professional endeavors at his website, christophersell.com.