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Forget finding a mentor—this is a better way to help your career

The often untold truth is that seeking out a dream coach, as valuable as that person might be, isn’t entirely necessary.

Forget finding a mentor—this is a better way to help your career
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock]

We’re all good at something, but one of the first lessons entrepreneurs learn is that no one is good at everything. To thrive, you need to either build a business that requires only one core competency (good luck finding that) or find people who can help you level up in more areas, fast.

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I was lucky in that when I started my company, InHerSight, I had two other cofounders ready to fill in my gaps. We divided and stumbled, then learned from our mistakes.

At the time, I would have called our dynamic teamwork a Hail Mary pass, but as my company has continued to grow, I’ve come to realize that a better word for the relationship we formed in those early, scrappy days was and still is mentorship.

The popular narrative around mentors is that you need one person—someone who’s older, further along in their career, and has experience in the area where you’re headed. Your personal career guru.

But the often untold truth is that seeking out a dream coach, as valuable as that person might be, isn’t entirely necessary—at least not in the sense that you should consider yourself lost until you find “the one.” There are plenty of opportunities to learn from the people you work alongside every day.

Regardless of their age or experience level, if someone on your team is talented, you should be picking their brain for little gems of wisdom, or even asking them more directly to teach you how to do what they’re doing. Instead of setting up coffee dates with execs you aspire to be, you should embrace “mentorship moments” and acquire a broad range of skills from your counterparts.

That’s not to say I haven’t had traditional mentors who were invaluable to my career. I have, and I still do. But those relationships formed organically over time, and you don’t want to miss out on collecting valuable skills simply because you’re not paying attention to the wealth of knowledge that’s already in front of you.

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In the aftermath of #MeToo, I find this community approach to mentorship to be especially important for women. If LeanIn.org’s findings about male managers are representative of our current work climate (60% say they feel uncomfortable interacting with and mentoring women in the workplace), then women have only a limited supply of inclusion-minded mentors to choose from. Those mentors only have so much time to guide up-and-coming talent. Unfortunately, we can’t expect them to be able to take on everyone.

Women, you are smart, determined, resilient, and resourceful, but just like me, you won’t dive into anything—your career, a business, or even a new project—knowing everything.

You can spend time looking for the perfect mentor, who you might or might not find, or you can start collecting relationships, building a community of mentors who represent a variety of career levels, interests, and experiences.

If you see that someone has a skill you want, get to know them. If you don’t understand something, ask someone who does to meet with you one on one. Take notes when you see a presentation style you like. Learn from other people’s successes and failures. Fuel the growth of your career with snippets of learnings from everyone you meet along the way.


Ursula Mead is the CEO and cofounder of InHerSight.

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