When Mitzi Cardenas worked at the corporate offices of Sunshine Jr. stores, she asked former CEO Lana Jane Lewis-Brent if she could observe her and her team during a quarterly P&L review.
Lewis-Brent said yes, and it led to a longtime mentoring relationship. "She taught me how to be an executive," said Cardenas, the vice president of business development and performance and chief information officer at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City.
Since then, Cardenas has implemented a formal mentoring program at the hospital.
More often than not, you're already working with your potential mentor. Cardenas sought out Lewis-Brent partly because she was one of the few women in a senior management with IT experience at her company.
Jennifer Labin, chief talent and diversity officer of MentorcliQ and author of "Mentoring Programs That Work," found her first formal mentor after seeing training expert Elaine Biech speak at a workshop 12 years ago. "I was impressed about how she can command the room." Labin asked Biech to get coffee, and their initial meeting led to a mentoring relationship.
Michelle Tesoro, who served as lead film editor for the Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic "On the Basis of Sex," began by taking any job she could on a TV show.
"I would take a job for relationships," she said. "Every step matters moving forward."
Just remember that you don't have to wait for the perfect mentor. Find one that helps you with one goal, then find another.
"There is no Mr. Miyagi, no one Yoda," Labin said.
Prepping for mentoring
Take your time to envision what the ideal relationship is, said Lisa Fain, CEO of the Center for Mentoring Excellence. Also frame your goal as, "where am I now, and where do I want to go?"
Think about a specific skill you need, she advised, and also articulate what you don't need. That might determine whether your mentoring relationship moves forward. A mentor should be distinguished from a role model, or even a coach, Fain said. With a mentor, you have a focused learning goal.
"You have to have some self-awareness," she added. And consider how your learning style will mesh with your mentor's. "What style works for you? What doesn't work for you?"
Watchen Nyanue, vice president of marketing partnerships for the Chicago Sky women's basketball team, found all her mentors through work. She emphasized that you have to project openness to a prospective mentor.
"You have to be someone who people want to mentor, and most times that happens because they already see you working and want to help guide you," said Nyanue,
Fain and Labin advise that you write down your preferences — how often you want to meet, how much time you would like for each session, and what you are willing to do. Prepare to share what you think the mentoring relationship is going to look like.
When you come to the table prepared, it lets a potential mentor "know you're serious," said Labin,
If it's not a good fit
If a mentoring relationship falters, "end it with grace," advised Fain. You avoid a lot of conflict and derailing of the relationship when you set up expectations and ground rules, she added.
Sometimes it doesn't work out. "You want to align yourself with someone that you’re comfortable with, that you trust and has similar values as you," said Brenda Granucci Forman of Merlot Marketing. "That may require you to go through a few mentors before finding the right one, but that’s OK."
Even a rejection still gets you a connection, said Labin.
"When those rejections happen, you're all of a sudden a part of their world. Later on, those paths will cross again."