Do you still need a mentor at work? YES! And it’s never too late. Everyone needs a role model and a source of expert advice — but people at the top of the ladder like to reach down to the brightest lights with the longest-term potential, leaving a lot of women our age lost in the generational shuffle. That’s the tough love part: If you’re waiting for a career godmother to swoop down in a cloud of glitter, it’s time to put down the yogurt spoon and change the channel.
DON’T cultivate your boss. The decision to become your friend, your advocate or your mentor has to come from them. Maybe that’ll happen someday, but the fact that it hasn’t happened yet should tell you everything you need to know in the here and now. Meanwhile, your relationship is clearly defined: They call the shots for the good of the organization. Pursue role models diagonally across the org chart instead. Departments or roles you’d like to explore (but aren’t in now) are a great place to start.
DO look beyond the cubicle. Technology has widened everybody’s professional horizons and that applies to informal relationships as well. Your best guidance may come from friends of friends of friends, so keep your network open and don’t be afraid to add people who look as if they could have something to offer. (Spoiler: They do.) Once you identify someone, study their moves. Help them out where you can. Work up your nerve to ask them questions and then, if that goes well, get referrals.
DON’T push it. There’s no “mentor contract” that entitles you to any favors that aren’t freely given. Your privileges can be revoked at any time, even on a whim. The more useful you make yourself, the less likely you’ll be to get squeezed out over time — and until that happens, treat every crumb you receive as a gift.
DO keep your eyes open. While you’re waiting for “Mentor Right” to show up, focus on the “mentor right now” learning opportunities all around you. It doesn’t matter if someone you idolize lavishes her attention on other favorites. Stalk every nuance and experiment with imitating power traits, and when you find one that works for you, practice until it’s perfect. Every encounter is an opportunity. And you may never even meet your best life guides! You know how politicians study the biographies of historical figures? If Cersei Lannister is your spirit animal, go ahead and get that haircut.
DON’T stay mentor-monogamous. The latest studies in behavioral economics reveal that the real mother of success is the crowd. We all have specialized expertise we can teach each other, things that come easy or we’ve had to learn. Take those aspects from everyone in your peer group — even strangers who have something you admire — and cook up a composite mentor from the ingredients. If one general role model is good, a personal “squad” of specialists can be unstoppable.
DO pay it forward. A lot of us focus too hard chasing skills up the org chart when the real transformative insights are burbling up from below. Whether it’s publishing, technology or the financial markets, real winners often surround themselves with young people with their touch on the pulse of tomorrow. It’s a facelift for the brain, keeping the “old lady” relevant and vibrant while everyone else gets stuck in the status quo. Find some kids to teach. They’ll show you what you really need to know.
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
Sign up to receive our free weekly newsletter every Thursday.