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Finding a Mentor in Your Own Backyard

When I first started in school and then business, I knew that I would need help getting through the challenges in my career.  I often felt like Dorothy searching for the magic answers from the Wizard. On my journey down the yellow brick road, looking for advisors I could trust, I encountered mentors, some expected and some unexpected.  Not all the relationships were successful for the reasons that I thought they might be, because I wasn’t always intentional in my search. I realized I had to learn and define what I needed at the time, and then take into consideration that “all” relationships are not successful.  Think about your friends and work peers. There is also the fact that everyone is not meant to give advice. Face it, that’s an art in and of itself.

I have also been honored to give back and mentor some amazing students and business leaders along the way. To me, it doesn’t matter which side of the table I am sitting on. I always consider the relationship to be great if learning was shared.  But how do you find the help and support you need at the time you need it? There are several ways. I suggest going back to basics and using the five W’s.

First, Who can be a mentor?  Since a mentor is an advisor,  pretty much anyone with industry experience who wants to help you can be a mentor.  Saying anyone can be a mentor is a broad definition so let’s take it a step further. You will want to make sure you and your mentor are in sync. Your mentor should understand your business and who you are. They should have a background and skills relevant to what you need and be someone that you respect. You will need to be open to constructive advice and criticism from him or her.

Then, What do you need your mentor to do?  Consider how you want the relationship to work. You want someone who can offer advice, wisdom and support, not tell you what to do but to guide you. Define how you want the meetings to go and be clear on the takeaways. Streaming conversation is fun, but you should always have an action item or two for discussion at the next meeting. The relationship can be very formal or very loose, but I haven’t found the loose ones to be as effective for me.  If you are goal-oriented, then make goals. No matter your style, be clear on what you need and what you want out of the relationship.

Of course, Where do you find a mentor? It’s not always someone you might expect.  It is usually someone you know, but not always. I have networked my way into mentoring relationships that turned into long-term relationships that have been invaluable in my life. Be open and attend local networking groups. Meet people. Make connections. Consider informational meetings with peers who can then refer you to other business leaders you may need or want to know. Ask others for recommendations based on what you are looking for.

How will you know When it’s the best time to find a mentor? It depends. You might feel stuck in your career or your business has hit a brick wall. You might be anticipating change when working through a strategic plan. You might need help with your business or personal development plan. The key is when you find yourself seeking the next step but struggle which way to go, or fear is overwhelming you, or you just need someone to walk beside you during a period of time, be open to asking for help.

John Maxwell said, “One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” Pursuing success in business and even your personal life takes a great deal of hard work, ambition and patience. A solid mentor relationship provides support and trust for those tough times when you need a push and that’s Why we should all seek those advisors.

Be open to asking the right questions, because you have the right answers. It’s all about the questions. It helps to put you in the right place at the right time with the right people.  It doesn’t mean you have to search far and wide. As Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz would say, you can almost always find the answers in your own backyard.

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Christine Kalish, MBA, CMPE, is a senior executive and trusted healthcare advisor with deep experience in ambulatory care and academic medicine. She is a thought leader and strategist for emerging and expanding healthcare organizations. For more than thirty years, Kalish has been leading organizations and teams to develop critical infrastructure and growth planning to improve operations, workflow, human resources and revenue cycle.  She continually searches for innovative ways to assist her clients so they can deliver quality care for the populations they serve.