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For Career Development, Get Involved with Mentoring

Like many people, Dr. Lois Zachary’s first experience with mentoring came from her mother. A recognized expert in mentoring and leadership, and author of “The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships”, “Creating A Mentoring Culture: The Organization's Guide” and the newly released “The Mentee's Guide: Making Mentoring Work For You”, providing leadership development, coaching, education, and training for corporate and nonprofit organizations has become her life’s work.

Lois Zachary photo

“My mom was a mentor to the world,” said Zachary. “She was very confident and competent and people would show up on our doorsteps seeking her advice. My maiden name is Menter, so it’s serendipitous that my destiny was to be a thought leader in this area.”

In addition to her aptronym, and prior to a professional role in the leadership and coaching field, Zachary had personal experiences in mentoring others and being the recipient of a mentor relationship.

“One of my mentors actually turned out to be one of the people I was mentoring,” she said. “I was working in an area I was not familiar with and this person helped me learn the language and culture and raise the bar on my own growth and development. At the same time, I was doing the same thing for her.”

However, it was another mentor that provided her with new insight on personal discovery.  

"She was someone that was savvy, knowledgeable, smart and inspirational and I could have gotten so much more out of the relationship if I had been able to ask for what I needed,” added Zachary. “She ended up opening doors for me and helped me be able to perform and deliver. It was a growth opportunity, but it could have been so much more.”

While mentoring goes on all the time, the people who need it most are the people least likely to receive it. That’s because they don’t know how to go about getting it. Even if mentoring isn’t part of the formal corporate structure, organizations can still support and foster strong mentor relationships.

“When you think of developing mentoring in an organization you should be asking what kind of continuous support are we providing to make sure mentoring is going on,” she said. “There are many forms of mentoring from face-to-face and group mentoring to supervisory mentoring and flash mentoring. We’re also seeing more personal board of directorswhere people have a lot of different mentors to help them grow and develop. We know that successful leaders are standing on the shoulders of the people that have come before them.”

Zachary notes that to use mentors wisely, it’s important to understand your goals.

“If you want to grow and develop your career, it’s important to have a goal and then align your energy towards achieving it,” she added. “Understand that not just any mentor will do. It’s important to figure out long term goals as well as how a mentor can help.”

In addition to having clearly defined goals, Zachary suggests:

  • think about past mentor experiences and what you liked or did not like about them
  • define what you need from a mentoring relationship
  • use criteria to identify the qualities you want in a mentor
  • use the people in your network to find people in their network that might be able to help you.

“There are things you can do to make mentoring work for you, but you need to be the driver in the relationship and keep the relationship vibrant,” she says. “Mentoring is critical for professional development and through the help of a mentor individuals are able to continuously improve, grow and develop.”