Need a mentor? Just ask!

An instructor of HR technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Steve Boese’s first experience with mentoring happened not in the classroom, but in a large corporate environment. “Like many people coming out of school, I didn’t have a compelling love for any one aspect of business and wanted to try various things to figure out what would suit me best,” he said. “I went to work for AT&T, which gave me the opportunity to get involved in a lot of different areas of business.”

It was there Boese gravitated towards Information Systems, particularly HR technology, and benefitted from the guidance of a mentor.

“At the time we didn’t identify it as a mentor relationship, but that’s exactly what it was,” said Boese. “The CFO of our division took a few people in the department, myself included, under his wing and gave us practical day-to-day advice for surviving in what was a very complex and political environment.”

Most beneficial was sharing strategies and approaches that enabled Boese to understand how to survive in a corporate setting. The lessons that proved invaluable were learning how to evaluate information and effectively manage relationships.

“This was at a time when the printed memo was the typical mode of business communication and this person taught me to evaluate information in the context of who else had that same information,” he explained. “It sounds crazy today when we think of how accessible information is, but back then that wasn’t true and it really mattered who else had that same piece of information. He really taught me a lot of practical advice.”

Another important lesson Boese learned was the art of effectively managing interpersonal relationships. His mentor taught him that dealing with people as individuals would result in better relationships because everyone’s perspective is shaped through different experiences, backgrounds, motivation and fear.

Later in his career Boese worked as a consultant to Oracle and discovered other mentors who taught him how to excel in this new role.

“When I transitioned to the role of consultant, the training I received was centered on technical and product training, but we didn’t receive training on how to be a good consultant,” he said. “What I learned from my mentors were the skills and capabilities needed to manage the relationship with clients. They helped me understand that there’s more to success than having a technical skill.”

While Boese found mentors inside the organizations where he worked, he recommends others not limit themselves to the confines of their employer, but to explore social networks and local organizations or participate in business networking groups.

“It’s as simple as introducing yourself and letting someone know you admire their work and are looking for some help,” said Boese. “It might feel funny to come right out and ask someone to be your mentor, but most people feel good about helping others. Relationships develop from mutual respect and many of mine started with a phone call or email asking someone for their perspective.”

A key benefit of mentoring relationships is getting viewpoints or validation on your own perspectives. To help with decisions or to bounce ideas, Boese has an informal board of personal directors.

“I’m in the middle of an important decision point in my career and have consulted with three people that I consider on my personal board of directors,” he said. “Each has given me perspective and insight that the others did not and has contributed something unique to my repository of knowledge and information.

Mentoring is really important for personal development. I should probably start something in my classes that helps students with their career aspirations. A lot of people may be intimidated by launching into these relationships, but support from an authority is a good thing.”

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