The 5 Most Important Things I Learned from my Mentors

By Guest Blogger Ben Eastman, BA, CIP

I’ve been fortunate to have a number of knowledgeable mentors who have helped me develop professionally and personally.

In my experience, mentors are a fantastic way to gain insight into where your career may lead. A strong relationship with a mentor has helped me challenge myself, to improve and grow. At first, finding a mentor seemed daunting and uncomfortable, but the relationships and lessons learned during periods of my career have had long-lasting and positive impact. 

Here are my most prominent takeaways:

1. How to receive constructive feedback

Taking feedback is no simple task. The feeling of being exposed and discussing “weaknesses” or perceived weaknesses, can be frightening and most certainly uncomfortable. This is a great skill to learn, and develop, as the relationship between you and your mentor should be one that is extremely safe and positive. Finding a mentor who is engaged in your development and success will provide a strong foundation from which you both can grow. Being able to receive constructive feedback will help you develop new skills more quickly and efficiently, thus empowering you to be more engaged in your own development. (Your boss will also be impressed!)

2. How to network effectively

Our world is filled with “networking” opportunities. Some of these are falsified with connections over social media which in my opinion and in most cases rarely, if ever, result in meaningful value to your career or personal development. My mentors were all phenomenal at being able to quickly develop meaningful relationships, not only with me, but with other people. Developing professional networking skills will enable you to gain access to other networks, new information and more people. Maybe you will learn something new, and maybe you will be introduced to your next mentor, or your next opportunity that you may not have had access to previously.

Networking doesn’t have to be at an event or organized affair. Any conversation with someone you may not know much about could be the one that alters your career path and changes your life in a positive way. Many mentors and partnerships may not be formal, but may happen organically. Here are some tips to put yourself in the best position to succeed when meeting new people:

Maintain eye contact while speaking with them: This cannot be understated, if you are unable to maintain eye contact it shows the speaker that you are not interested in what they have to say. Eye contact is key to building trust and not doing so can result in lost opportunities and missed relationships which may have benefitted you and others in the future;

Continue to educate yourself on current events: Being able to find commonalities outside of a work environment can be a daunting task. Keeping up with current events, sports or personal passions you will be able to easily find topics of discussion with new people. These light interactions can help you develop common ground quickly, leading you to more in depth discussions.

Listen: While this may seem obvious, a common pitfall for many people is talking too much; whether about yourself or about things you want to talk about. Relationships and respect is twofold and acknowledging the other speaker and asking smart questions can go a long way to having a positive conversation. It will also leave a memorable impression of you, pivotal to you throughout your career.

3. What it means to be “Consistent”

I, like most people, was unsure of how to make myself stand out amongst my peers. “You don’t want to be the flash in the pan,” is what one of my first mentors told me. Confused, I thought it meant I wasn’t supposed to try to do things outside the status quo; is that not how I was supposed to establish myself inside my organization? She quickly informed me that being “the steady light” will put you in a better position to succeed on a more regular basis. This means providing maximum sustainable effort every day!  Of course, some days will be harder and some easier than others, but by pushing yourself every day and achieving consistently you will set yourself apart.  

4. The history of “Why?”

Most mentors, especially in the beginning of your career, will have been with your organization for much longer than you have. They are guides to what has, what is and what will happen in your organization as they have generally “been there, done that”. They will be able to share the history of “why” things happen, or don’t happen, at your workplace. They will be able to share details and intricate knowledge of company culture and procedure, as well as set expectations for what you can expect during many of your “firsts” (your first review, your first challenging situation with a co-worker or, my personal favourite, your first “bad” interview).

Understanding the history and culture of your organization will enable you to better assemble your career plan. Company culture is extremely important to how a firm will operate. Your mentor can help you develop a sound understanding of what makes the engine run, helping you stand out as an employee who “gets it.”

5. Pay it forward

I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors. They’ve all been extremely generous with their time, their knowledge and their willingness to help me find my way in my career. Though they all are unique in their personalities, skill sets and passions, they all have one very distinct commonality: they too had great mentors. The act of giving back to a new employee is very important to them and something they take great pride in doing.

At this time in your career, you may be on the receiving end of advice and direction from a more tenured employee or colleague, remember them when the time comes and someone asks you for help for direction. Do like your mentors have done, pay it forward.

Category : Mentoring