What do you think happened when I challenged 10 senior professionals to seek professional mentors?
6 years ago I developed a programme to support professionals to gain a doctoral level qualification in business (the professional equivalent of a PhD). I was the course leader and had not long finished working with an EU funded project about mentoring so it was something I was keen to advocate.
I set each participant the task of seeking a professional mentor, someone who they would discuss their professional development with and if possible the technical aspects surrounding the topic of their major practitioner research project. Many of the participants sighed a little at the challenge and made remarks such as: "I'm already at the top of my game" or, "I'm the boss, there is no-one above me." I was left wondering if I'd entirely missed the mark with this audience.
But then I received an email a few weeks later with words to the effect of, "Can you believe it! I discussed with (anonymised), my manager the need to find a mentor and they've put me in touch with (anonymised) in (anonymous organisation) who has agreed to mentor me'. I've got this programme to thank entirely". Two years later that participant was working in the mentors organisation before progressing into a pretty impressive role in an internationally-known organisation, and is still pretty close to their mentor. .
Five of the participants were self-employed and whilst some responded well to learning that I expected them to seek a professional mentor, some shared the view above that they were already 'top of their game', working well independently, with some great clients and a comfortable income. Then one day I got a text message, 'Can I ring you in a few hours when my flight gets in? It was from a pretty accomplished participant, who had authored several career and 'run a business well' type books'. Several hours later my phone rang, "so, I reached out to a Chief Strategic Officer at a major international, a little out of the blue but worth the try I thought, and he's agreed to mentor me... This is amazing for networking let alone anything else".
For all of us, including me, we learned several things:
Sharing our ambitions with others can be really impactful, taking us to those places in so many cases. 'You (really do) reap what you sow'
That there are always others we can learn from, even if we are at the top of our game*.
That really senior professionals can and do shriek with excitement when securing fab mentors ;)
Disappointingly, it was evident that males benefited more than females from this process. One key observation about this was that females were less bold in their mentor choices, finding mentors within their existing networks and with line superiors for instance. This does link to existing knowledge on women in careers and the overly modest behaviours of women in such contexts. Be bold!
I do feel obliged to outline that being mentored by someone more senior isn't necessarily a comfortable process. I experienced a 'career blip' a couple of years ago, and whilst it would have been really useful to have talked this through with my mentor I just couldn't face it for fear of being perceived as uncertain about my career/career direction. But, there are some amazing resources for having successful mentoring relationships just an internet search away that can help.
Consider engaging a professional mentor and reflecting on the questions below:
What does your 'what/where next' look like? Define it clearly and be ready to share and communicate that with your future mentor...and others. "Seeds won't grow in the packet!"
Who can you engage as a professional mentor to help you get there?
What will success look like?
Let me know how you get on!
*I do feel a little guilty that I encouraged more senior mentorship - learning from peers and those more junior (in career hierarchy terms) is still absolutely invaluable and I wouldn't want anyone to perceive that to be of less value.