A US Professor on the five types of mentors you need You can’t expect one person to be able to give you all the career guidance you need. Here are the people you need on your team. By Art Markman
When we talk about mentorship in the workplace, we often focus on finding one person who can help to guide us through the challenges we will face at work. It might be better to think about the set of people you need to have around you to help you succeed. With that in mind, here are a few people who should be part of your mentoring team.
The Coach There are times when you need someone to help you think through difficult problems. A good coach doesn’t solve your problems for you. The coach listens to what you say, and asks you questions to help you dig through what might be causing those problems. Coaches can suggest strategies for solving problems you might not have considered, but in the end you are the one that has to implement them and (eventually) internalize those strategies to be used in the future.
A good coach can also suggest perspectives on a problem you haven’t thought about. By broadening your horizons, a good coach makes you better at what you do in the future.
The Star Find people who have the career that you want. Spend time with them. Get to know how they operate, what they think about, how they prepare for big events. Stars often want to give you lots of advice. Listen to the advice, but take it with a grain of salt.
“Don’t ask for their recipe for success, watch what they do and how they engage with other people. ”
Most of the stories people tell about their success miss large parts of what actually helped them to succeed. So, don’t ask for their recipe for success. Instead, watch what they do and how they engage with other people.
The Connector It really is who you know in life that helps you move forward. In order to make sure that you build up your own list of contacts, find the people around you who know everyone. Have them help you to meet new people. It’s hard to cold-call someone, even someone from your own company. Having someone who can make introductions is valuable.
The Librarian A good librarian knows how to find every book in the library. As you navigate you organization and the community around it, you need to know the resources that are available to help you along. Chances are, there is someone around you who knows how to do almost anything in your organization. They are aware of all kinds of hidden resources. Hang out with these people so that you don’t end up reinventing the wheel when you are working on a project.
The Teammate Some days you eat the bear. Some days the bear eats you. On those days where the bear got you, it’s helpful to have someone who understands you and where you are in your career who can listen to what happened. Maybe you aren’t looking for a solution or a motivational speech—just some validation that you had a tough day. Find someone who will listen and lend a sympathetic ear. But, beware of people who want to escalate the drama. While it is important to have someone listen to you, you need that teammate to finish the conversation by reminding you that tomorrow is another day. Find people who can help you talk yourself down from negative energy rather than people who raise that energy to a fever pitch.
Finally, one type of mentor, perhaps the most traditional is not on this list: The Advisor. Often, we think of finding mentors who will tell us what to do in a particular situation. I am not a fan of advisors as mentors for a career. Your job is to learn to do your job. You can’t do that when other people have solved problems for you. You want to learn processes for success and not answers. To paraphrase the old saying, you want to be taught to fish and not to be served broiled trout.
Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations.