This piece is an interview from the “Corner Office” series in the New York Times where they interview senior executives about their careers.
This one presented a watershed moment for me as I have been on the search for a mentor for some time now. What Shellye Archambeau says in this interview is that if you ask someone to be a mentor for you, there is a good chance they might say “no” due to the time commitment and other reasons. In fact, it’s been on my “to do” list for some time now to volunteer to be a mentor with programs at work and it has never floated to the top of the list because I am concerned about having the proper time to devote to it. I have also seen mentoring relationships not pan out not only because of time but also because the expectations of parties differ.
What Shellye Archambeau says is that anyone can be your mentor and that it doesn’t need to be a formal, ongoing relationship. Rather, you can just ask people that you respect, in the course of a regular interaction, how they would deal with a certain problem.
The only quibble I have is that she seems to be equating mentoring with advice giving where I’d prefer to stick to the idea that mentors discuss what they have done in the past and let you take or leave this information to feed to your own learning.
Ironically, later in the same interview she cautions against being a “mamma bear” and solving everyone’s problems – to me this is what you are in danger of doing if you mentor through advice giving.
However, I really like her suggestion to close the loop on the mentoring information you are given – she is exactly right that this fosters the relationship and may make it possible to go back to that same well again for mentoring.
For me, reading this article made me realize with gratitude that I already have a range of mentors who help me with various aspects of my career. I also realize that I can feel content about the micro-mentoring I am able to squeeze in to my current schedule which these days is mostly on demystifying the public service hiring process.
She has other interesting things to say in this interview about organizational culture and taking risks – well worth a read.