I found this article By Kushaan Shah, an IBM Consultant and Entrepreneur ...... It would prove useful to all.......
Since the start of my time at IBM, there has always been an emphasis on mentoring. We got bombarded with pressure to find mentors immediately after starting, individuals who would magically guide young people through their struggles and invest in us when we needed help.We were told it was important to have some if you wanted to succeed. You could apparently just ask people and they would jump at the opportunity. It all sounded incredible.
So how were we supposed to find someone we wanted to be our mentor? We were told to network and find people that seemed unique and interesting. The first advice we got from recruiters, managers, and older colleagues was to attend as many happy hours and events as our time and liver allowed us. Sending a “Let’s Get Lunch” email was supposed to be as ubiquitous as tying a shoe. We were told to treat networking as our full-time job. There was little guidance beyond this.
With the transient nature and constant travel of individuals in a consulting office, we all quickly realized the importance of connecting virtually. IBM has an internal social connections platform (creatively called Connections) where practitioners can make status updates, write blogs, and connect with other employees. We also jumped at the opportunity to connect with practitioners on Linkedin. It was almost mechanical. We would meet someone at the office, exchange cards, find them on Connections and Linkedin, connect with them within 24 hours and call it a day. I was rolling up connections by the day and was impressed by how easy it was to do so. I was confident that I could message anyone for help. It was like a mentoring oasis.
A couple months in, I began to have many moments of hesitation. Was I just supposed to email them to ask them if they wanted to be my mentor? Did I have to make it official? Could I ask them for advice if we had not had this mentoring agreement? Would they be offended if I didn’t want to make it official? I had no idea. IBM even had a forum where people would just post “I need a mentor”and someone else would reply “I’ll be your mentor”. How was this so easy for some people and so awkward for others?
Fast forward about a year and I’m proud to say I have had many mentors at IBM. I have had many people in my corner that I can email and get advice from. I have close friends who are also professional confidants. I have people who have invested in me when they had no obligation to do so and vice versa. The best part? Very few awkward emails.
How do you approach a connection that interests you and turn them into a valuable mentor? Here’s a crazy idea: There is very little formality involved. It’s all organic. You don’t always have to ask. Instead, you just reach out and talk. Treat them as you would another person you want to be good friends with and allow the relationship to form naturally. There are some easy ways to start:
Define What You Want: First, remember that you can have more than one mentor. You may have a lot of people helping you for different reasons. Do you want advice? Introductions to people in an area of interest? Do you want to work on a proposal or project? Someone to sponsor you? Someone to write you a recommendation for Graduate School? Someone to simply chat with when you're overwhelmed? Mentoring has been romanticized as this "one-on-one" relationship where you have one mentor and they show you the ropes. You can have 20 mentors and they can all be from different backgrounds. You can do whatever you want. You can call someone a mentor even if they're the same age as you. A mentor is simply someone you trust and someone who gives you advice, help, or another type of investment. It's really that simple. Knowing what you want takes some pressure off and also allows you to be upfront in your emails and communications.
Communicate Well: Communicate well and often. Adding them on Linkedin is not communicating. Retweeting their tweet is not communicating. Sending one follow up email is not communicating. Communicating involves depth: Learn, enrich yourself, and exchange ideas. Don’t assume a person will be a good mentor before you know anything about them. There is also no such thing as “hard to get” if you want to build a relationship in business. Proactivity is key. Chat them. Email them at their preferred frequency. Ask open-ended questions. Give room for subjective responses and fluid conversation. Most people will be happy to reciprocate.
Don’t Just Talk About Business: Be a human being and not someone that just regurgitates questions about careers. Ask them about life. Understand some of their interests, motivations, and insecurities. Another tip: Don't ask simple questions that you can Google. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook hates when people ask her about her thoughts on the “Culture of Facebook”. This is something she discusses everywhere on the web. Find something about a mentor you can’t just find on an online blog or Linkedin profile. Talk about fun things too: I had lunch last fall with one of my favorite partners in the IBM office and we talked the entire time about Cricket and South Africa. Another partner and I recently discussed the ebb and flow of Lebron James in the NBA Finals. I’d feel comfortable approaching both of these individuals solely by the fact that the professional facade is complemented by a human one.
Offer an Idea or a Way To Help: If you have an important connection take time out of their day to meet you, it’s valuable time they could’ve spent somewhere else. Offer them help or a favor. It could be small or it could be a long-term project. Figure out your strengths or differentiators. If there’s no specific skill you can provide, ask if you can introduce them to anyone. Offer them an idea or a fresh outlook. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something that involves sacrificing a lot of your spare time but the principle of giving will resonate.
Be Open About Your Story: What interests you? Remember that meeting someone who interfaces with many people often requires you to define yourself or stand out in some way. I’ve had people that I've talked to for less than a minute who have ended up being valuable connections. Being open about your work, where you want to go in the future and what type of people you would love to meet is significant. It should not dominate the conversation but it does give another connection perspective and an opportunity to help. Most executives have a portfolio of other executives that could be sitting in areas of your interest. Having a reference come from another person is paramount in a world where everyone is trying to meet someone important.
Thank Them: Don't take them for granted. Thank people when they help you or give you advice. Thank them for being a resource and a mentor. Most people don’t even realize they have mentored someone or given them valuable advice until they get that note of appreciation or acknowledgement. You can guess what happens next: They’ll see that there’s a positive consequence of helping out and will be more likely to do so in the future.
Don’t Force It: Don’t take it personally if people don’t want to mentor you or take time out of their day to give you advice. If you've never met them before, it most likely isn’t your fault and just a function of their circumstance or situation. You’ll get a lot of emails that go unanswered. You’ll have a lot of offers to help that get dismissed. It is important to re-assess and make sure you're not doing anything too crazy (ex. overwhelming people with an elevator pitch). At the same time, there will be hundreds of people who are happy to help you. Don’t allow rejection to change your perspective of anyone as a human being or professional. You may have a chance to meet them down the road or you’ll meet others who will impact your life just as profoundly.
Thank you to all those at IBM and beyond that have been incredible mentors and even better friends!
In this series, professionals thank those who helped them reach where they are today. Read the posts here, then write your own. Use #ThankYourMentor and @mention your mentor when sharing if applicable.
Kushaan is an IBM Consultant based out of Washington D.C. His interests are rooted in strategy consulting, entrepreneurship, social media, and the intersection of technology and social impact. He enjoys blogging about life, empowerment, and hacking the corporate environment. If you liked this post, follow him on twitter: @kushaanshah
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