Great mentors don’t grow on large projects. In fact, they are more prolific than you may have thought, but they won’t fit neatly into any one category. At some point in your project management career, you are going to find that lack of a mentor leaves you feeling professionally alone and sometimes frustrated with lack of advancement. Having a mentor means you have another mechanism to drive your success and excellence.
Gauging the level of corporate chaos and how an organization manages it is hard to determine when you are a prospective employee. Questions at the end of every interview should include you asking about chaos, change, and what a mentor relationship looks like in that team. Many project managers take remote positions and although that brings a new set of challenges to the mentor relationship it is entirely achievable. However, if chaos reigns, a mentor will be much harder to find. (They will be too busy managing chaos.)
Stop Looking Up
Mentors aren’t just supervisors and the next level of management. They are peers, resources from other projects, or fresh employees who haven’t had time to allow company culture to sour their positive outlook. In particularly difficult work times, having someone to discuss the politics or inefficiencies allows you another perspective. If your career is just taking off the seasoned project manager may be your best bet. If you are particularly experienced and have been in the workforce for some time, you should look for mentors who bring a fresh perspective and offer you a reciprocal opportunity.
You know who you are. No amount of project improvement or organizational change will make you happy. You’ve been on the job for five to ten years, and you just can’t seem to get ahead. Your direct supervisor is about as inspiring as river rock, and the team around you seem to be in turtle mode. Managing projects has become a box-checking exercise, and although you can do a great job, it’s now a matter of just getting the minimum done. You spend an inordinate amount of time scanning other project manager jobs on LinkedIn, Indeed, and similar companies. So here you sit in your current position with hatred and dislike but get inspired enough by descriptions of other jobs actually to update your resume and apply. Yes, this is you.
A mentor can help you out of this dream you are in, but you need to make sure that this mentor likes their job. Eventually, your spirit will be evident, and other employees will start avoiding you or worse yet just skipping over you. You won’t be needed and now how does it feel to be a project manager who is fading into the desk? You need an attitude adjustment and the only way to get that is through mentorship. Before you throw the towel in and take another uninspiring job at a company you thought was better find a mentor that can help you get through the rough spots.
The Perfect Mentor
The perfect mentor for you is the one who you respect and trust. It doesn’t matter what they do or even if they manage technology projects. Connection to those values is all about how you view that person abilities, achievements or qualities. So consider the workforce around you, do you have some workplace relationships where you might already have a connection with someone you respect? Even in a remote work environment, mentorship is possible.
One of the most significant projects I managed was co-located and also had many geographically dispersed team members. Our reliance on telephone conferencing and instant messaging were tantamount to our success. Daily and weekly calls were the norms, and I found that my most excellent mentor was a person that would join my matrixed team on a part-time basis. I did not meet this person face-to-face until months later when we decided to bring her in for customer meetings. Although she had a lot of experience, it was her intellect, organizational skill, and efficiency I respected. I respected the way her experience viewed situations I would find myself in and I came to rely on her advice. This type of mentor was perfect because part of her time was focused on the same project goals.
Someone on your team may be a good mentor candidate but if your attitude about the company has soured the best bet is to find someone outside the group that would encourage you. The perfect mentor knows how to listen and can offer different perspectives, but you can’t get into the habit of nay-saying all the suggestions you may receive. If you fall into the sourpuss category, you’ll need to temper the acidity and work on improving that. Unfortunately, negativity breeds faster than positivity.
The perfect mentor offers a fresh look but can also commiserate with you when things don’t go exactly as planned. Even if someone doesn’t know something about the company, they should be able to understand the disappointments and empathize with you. The great thing about a perfect mentor is that they will find some way to help you understand the real impact of those disappointments and they will always offer approaches to repair any damage.
Establish a Professional Bond
Any relationship worth having is one where you have defined the ground rules. Maybe your perfect mentor candidate is a close personal friend. Sometimes we develop solid friendships with co-workers and maintain them as they or we move on. If your work ethic is souring, it’s probably best to find someone within the company that can jump start you though. Outsiders or personal friends may encourage you to leave if you don’t see any happiness in your current work. It’s important to find that mentor that supports your goals. Is your intention to go? Then find one outside of your current company.
The bottom line
Your perfect mentor doesn’t mix words. In other words, they are brutally honest with you. They don’t act encouraging when they know that gentle boosts won’t get you charged up. The mentor you need is blunt and will tell you when you need to stop complaining and make changes. Don’t get side-swiped by a mentor that only says you what you need to hear!
Once you’ve identified someone that you feel would make a great mentor, you need to ask that person. Maybe you’ve already had a similar relationship working, but neither of you has ever indeed acknowledged it. So make that identification during one of your conversations and let this person know you respect their opinion! You might be surprised that you yourself make a pretty good mentor.