The realization that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates connect periodically to discuss the economy, technology, philanthropy, entrepreneurship and other matters has impacted today’s thinking about mentorship. If the mentor-protege dynamic has contributed to the phenomenal success of the founders of Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft, then surely mentorship is something we all should consider.
So how do you go about finding and fostering a partnership with your own personal Warren Buffett?
Look at yourself
Before you approach a potential mentor, conduct some self-analysis. Ellen Ensher, author of Power Mentoring, recommends examining your strengths, weaknesses and career ambitions. Identify your “growing edges” – specific skills that you need to improve – and seek mentors who can help you develop those skills.
Conduct a broad-ranging search for people who might be ideal mentors. Scour your workplace, professional network, industry associations, nonprofits, former professors or company retirees for individuals you admire who possess the skills you are seeking. Look through your online connections to see if a former colleague might be able to introduce you to the subject matter expert you need.
Drive the relationship
Once you have identified a would-be mentor, make a professional pitch. Outline your situation, the skills you wish to develop, what you hope to achieve through mentorship, and why you think that individual would be an ideal mentor.
Lindsey Musselman, Manager of Executive Development and Succession for Vanguard in Malvern, PA, says protégés must take the lead in relationships with mentors. That includes identifying expectations and goals, scheduling communications, ensuring conversations are productive and succinct, and providing reverse-mentoring benefits to the mentor by sharing skills and jointly tackling business challenges.
Once you have secured that first, great advisor, don’t end your quest for mentors. Experts in talent development say there is no such thing as “two-timing” when it comes to mentoring. Individuals need multiple mentors to address specific skill gaps, provide overall career advice and tackle emerging opportunities. Tailor each relationship to its specific goals, recognizing that some mentorships will be short-lived, some will involve frequent contact and some will provide many years of rare, but satisfying talks.
Alan J. Kaplan is Founder & CEO of Kaplan Partners, a retained executive search and talent advisory firm focused on serving community banks. Based in Philadelphia, Kaplan Partners is the country’s only retained executive search firm member of both the PBA and the ABA.