Why You Need A Mentor

Mentors are the most important resource for success on the job. Finding them can be a task; positioning yourself to be selected as a menteeis another. Here's how to accomplish both.

young female professionals through the national Menttium 100 organization, Lindsey knows that mentee status has to be earned. Some mentors who took interest in her career later told her they approached her because of her ability to clearly articulate ideas, her high energy, and because she showed strong leadership traits.

According to Hyter, professionals who are mentor-ready demonstrate a love of the business, actively seek out and incorporate feedback, appreciate the corporation’s political process, and have a professional and confident presence in the workplace.

“People need to understand mentors are human beings just like mentees are,” says Hyter, “We tend to be attracted to strength, not weakness; willing learners, not people who feel entitled to things. Someone who genuinely loves the business is contagious. This is a person who’s genuinely trying to grow in the environment they’re in.”

That means recognizing that “politics” isn’t a dirty word. “We often see professionals of color spend so much time focusing on just their jobs or their technical skills, and they have little regard for the importance of developing relationships with others,” he says. “People [should] understand that if you’re liked by a broad group of people [it will be] better for you within an organization. Those who don’t care usually don’t get mentored very often.” During his early days at Dayton-Hudson, Hyter remembers how some fellow blacks resisted going to bars and other after-hours events with their white colleagues and resented the notion that they should. But at one such event, Hyter met the company’s vice chairman and asked for a one-on-one meeting. The executive agreed, and many informal get-togethers followed, with the vice chairman appreciating Hyter’s effort and interest in getting to know him personally. This executive served as both a mentor and sponsor, positioning Hyter for a key promotion that served as a springboard for his climb to the company’s executive suite.

“Most of the time, you’re noticed by the way you do your work, how you engage and respond to other people, how you deliver, and whether or not you are willing to take on whatever assignment comes your way,” says Lindsey, who has been approached by young professionals asking for mentoring. “I admire their tenacity,” she says, “but encourage them to be discerning. For an African American, we haven’t had that many experiences in that realm. We have to learn how to work through the process.”

Adds Beasley: “Have a complete assessment of what your strengths and weaknesses are and be honest in that assessment. [Mentees] have to communicate where they are succeeding, not just where they’re failing. It also reaffirms you’re staying busy and not just taking up their time.” Because Beasley is often spotted giving sound bites on local newscasts and quoted in local media, potential mentees seek him out through phone calls, e-mails—he’s even been stopped while shopping at the grocery store. “If they’re big enough to do that, I’ll always follow up with a phone call to them.”

But “don’t ask the question without a plan or a strategy,”

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