I've heard many people complain about not having found a "good" mentor — including very accomplished, high-potential leaders. But the truth is, it's very easy to fall into certain traps when it comes to the process of trying to find a mentor, and eventually to leveraging mentor relationships effectively.
Here are the seven most common mistakes people make when reaching out to mentors for advice:
1. You approach someone with no clear agenda.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with those they look up to as potential mentors is to approach them with a vague question in mind: "Will you be my mentor?" (rather than a specific question or interest).
When I'm on the receiving end of this type of request, I tend to feel uncomfortable. Why? We are all human, and it's daunting to be asked to be someone's mentor! I don't know what the person is interested in, what kind of commitment might be involved, and I'm therefore inclined to say no.
But if someone asks me if I have 15 minutes to give them feedback on a new networking group to empower women in their twenties, I am more inclined to say yes.
Solution: It's simple. Take some time to figure out what you are looking for in a mentor. What are some specific questions you want to ask them? Figure this out before you approach the person.
2. You force the relationship.
It can be prickly to ask someone to be your mentor when there is no real connection or commonality, but just admiration or a related feeling. But mentorship is all about connection, and it's hard to force connection.
Solution: Only put effort toward developing relationships with people who you naturally have a connection with. Notice when you "hit it off" with someone, and pursue the relationship. Don't take it personally if there isn't a natural connection with a particular person.
3. You tend to look outside of yourself for solutions.
Many women I support are extremely accomplished and yet suffer from self-doubt and a feeling that they are not good enough. Sometimes, we create a belief that we need an outside mentor, when the situation really calls for trusting our inner guidance, "our gut" instead.
Solution: Connect with your intuition, your "inner mentor" instead. I recommend a guided visualization to connect with your future self. You may be surprised to hear how much wisdom you carry within when you take the time and space to listen to it
4. You over-idealize your mentor.
Another pattern I've observed is that we often put mentors up on a pedestal. But the key to success is to start embodying the person you most want to become today, every morning, even with the smallest gestures. So start looking up to yourself as someone who is powerful, strong, intelligent and more. And then start acting as the future person you want to be.
Solution: Start to ask yourself, "How would I dress? What would I eat for lunch? How would I speak?" (putting yourself in the shoes of that mentor you most look up to).
Starting with these very simple questions can be a fun, accessible way to start realizing your power. Find what is authentic for you and start to act as if you already are that future self who is incredibly successful.
5. You are too formal.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that a mentoring relationship needs to be formal and include some sort of agreement. Anne Finucane, the Global Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Bank of America shared that she noticed another woman at work doing a great job and maintaing a social life (and family life) outside of work. This other woman was a mentor to Anne without her even knowing it.
Personally, I have plenty of people I consider mentors from having read their books, heard them speak, or followed their work and been inspired. You don't need to meet every other Tuesday for lunch for it to count.
Solution: Think of someone who is already mentoring you indirectly. What are three things you've learned from that person? Can you put them into practice?
6. You pity yourself.
As a woman working in a world where men hold the majority of the leadership positions, it is tempting to think that we're all alone and unsupported — partially because there is sometimes evidence that supports this story. Instead, see if you can start to appreciate those who already have your back.
Solution: Start to notice the mentors you already have. When Anne Finucane was asked if she had great mentors, she said; "My bosses gave me feedback, good and bad, and I learned a lot from them, so in some sense, they were my mentors."
7) You are too strategic in your approach.
I used to categorize people based on their experience, industry and how they might be able to help me. I've learned since then that the most unexpected people can end up being the most supportive of my career.
I now advise all my clients to trust their gut or intuition, and listen to their heart rather than their mind when looking for an ongoing mentor. Go to events when you genuinely feel excited rather than because it's a good "strategic move" for your career.
Solution: Trust your heart and your intuition. If you're curious about someone, reach out, even if you don't know why.