How Not to Find a Mentor at Work

Seeking the World’s Greatest Mentor

Ambitious, up-and-coming corporate rockstar employee seeks brilliant executive at my company for
long-term business mentoring relationship. Must be rich, successful, well-connected and willing to share
the secret formula. I enjoy weekly guidance sessions over espresso and biscotti and advice-filled walks on
the beach. DM meet, if interested.

The Mentor of Oz

If mentorship is so crucial to your success as business leader, what is your plan for finding this coveted
relationship? Personal ads on the companywide Slack channel? Ok, that’s kind of creepy. How about
cold-calling Elon Musk? Get ready for a restraining order.
Odds are you won’t find the ultimate business mentor who is eager to invest regular hours to mold,
shape and inspire a high potential protégé like you. The execs in your company already navigate
overloaded schedules and a variety of demands on their time and energy.
Hey, we all want to find that perfect career mentor, the omni-competent, compassionate Wonderful
Wizard of Oz. It’s probably easier, though, to find a dancing Tin Man or a flying monkey.

Diversify Your Mentor Portfolio

Maybe you will get lucky and find your business Yoda, but more aspiring executives these days are
turning to a portfolio approach to glean advice from a small network of trusted advisers. Just like you
don’t want to dump all of your life’s savings into crypto, one single mentor can’t satisfy all of your
learning needs. In fact, many of the best-intentioned mentor relationships go awry. As young leader on
the rise and wanting to get a broad exposure to business perspectives, you (and your mentors) will be
best served when you spread your risk, and questions, across a wide spectrum of advisors.

The Mentors Down the Hall

Try to stack your professional development portfolio with at least one of each the following types of

The Oracle – Just as mythological Greek heroes would seek out a wise soothsayer before going on a
quest, you should incorporate one or two insightful individuals to assist you with decisions at key
crossroads. When seeking an Oracle, select someone whom you respect enough to be completely
honest with regarding your aspirations and fears. Find an individual who has vastly more life experience
than you. Sometimes your direct supervisor might be a candidate for Oracle, but more often you’ll find
someone without a vested interest in your decisions outside of your team or department. Look for
someone who asks great questions before offering advice. Rather than holding to a regular meeting
schedule, go to your Oracle in key moments like:
• Whe longing to do something different at work
• A major life event that causes questions—illness, birth of a child or even a freakin’ pandemic
• The appearance of an unexpected opportunity

The Specialist – As a young leader, sometimes you lack the knowledge, experience, or networks to solve
an unfamiliar problem:
• How do I make a strong business case for a project I am passionate about?
• What’s the most effective way to motivate underperformers?
• What should I be reading about my industry to be ready for the future?
• How do I use the constitutional monarchy of Liechtenstein as a tax haven?
Any atlas can tell you that Liechtenstein is sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland, but Specialist
mentors, if selected carefully, fill in gaps of your own personal experience.  Mentors achieve Specialist
status because they have become experts at a particular intersection in your industry.  They may be
regarded as a maven on a particular subject or technology.  Furthermore, a specialist may have achieved
a level of success in a particular field that you are drawn to. Who in your company can you tap into by
saying, “I respect your experience. I won’t take much of your time, and I will do my own homework, but
if I ever have a question about XYZ, can I reach out?”

The Accountability Buddy – A fraternity exists among up-and-coming stars at a company. They speak
your language, share your scars and love to play the game as much as you do.  And best of all, some of
them have made mistakes that you haven’t. An Accountability Buddy is someone who is roughly at your
level in the organization, but may be from another team. Unlike the Oracle and Specialist, you add as
much value to an AB as they add to you. Meetings or correspondence may be consistent (a weekly
coffee meeting to talk shop) and frequent (an ongoing email dialogue about a variety of issues). Share
your professional goals with an AB. They will give you direct feedback and hold your feet to the fire to
do what you said you would do. Best of all, they celebrate your wins and spur you along.
The Coach. Managers who are looking to turbo-charge their careers occasionally require confidential
perspective, training and wisdom from outside of their own company. At Emergent Execs, we can
connect you with a professional coach who has been where you want to be, and has the tools and
advice to fast-forward you to your goals.

Bottom Line

Stop looking for the ideal mentor to help you in your business.  Build a collection of sages around you,
and accrue the insights of decades of experience from people you can trust. Check-in with our article
next month on “How to Ask a Mentor,” which will offer some practical tips on setting up the right
expectations for a mutually-rewarding mentor relationship.

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