In a work world that values individuals, it can be easy to forget that collaboration and connection are critical in paving the road to success. A great idea or a brand new approach gets others to take a second look, but fostering relationships and building bonds with fellow innovators is a surefire way to make meaningful moves to the top.
Experts agree that education, experience, and access are essential to upward mobility—but mentorship should not be overlooked. Finding a trusted advisor who is as passionate about the work as they are about ushering in a new generation of social justice advocates and nonprofit leaders should be a key part of any professional plan.
The new year brings new opportunities to identify the perfect mentor, build lasting bonds with those already making waves, and capitalize on connections to land the role you have always dreamed of.
Mentors and motivators
Some of the most well-known figures in social impact rose to the top with the help of others. For example, Warren Buffet taught Bill Gates how to overcome on-the-job adversities and develop long-term plans with short-term goals. This resulted not only in the creation of a giant tech company, but also in the establishment of a global partner in public health innovations in the form of the Gates Foundation.
Billionaire Richard Branson sought guidance from Sir Freddie Laker in the early stages of launching Virgin Atlantic, resulting in a brand with wide-reaching influence in the lifestyle and entertainment industries.
Though great businessmen and innovators in their own right, both Gates and Branson found that their goals could only be achieved once they partnered with a trusted mentor who answered questions, provided guidance, and offered support.
What to look for
The world of change-makers is filled with inspiring visionaries and trailblazers, so it’s important to know exactly what to look for when seeking a mentor. Pros say that identifying someone you want to be like is the first step.
Perhaps it's the expert fundraiser who sits in the corner office or the guy down the hall who always has the next big idea. Start searching for a mentor by tapping into existing networks. Comb through alumni channels and professional associations, explore blogs and publications, and check out social-impact events. Talk to people and spend time really listening.
How to connect
Once you have identified a potential mentor, it’s time to reach out. Making an ask of a person you admire can feel intimidating, so get a foot in the door by leveraging relationships with current colleagues and close friends who can make personal introductions. Alumni networks offer an easy “in” thanks to shared community and experience, as do associations and clubs.
Tap future mentors beyond your network with a classic cold call. A friendly email or message with a request to meet for coffee or hop on a call and a link to your professional profile can fast track an initial connection. And remember, a little bit of research can go a long way toward proving you’re serious about making moves.
Cultivating a meaningful mentorship
Good relationships are rooted in mutual respect, reciprocity, and solid communication. After an initial meeting has taken place with a potential mentor, determine whether a partnership is a good fit. Make sure conversation flows, ideas are shared, and an interest in connecting is clear. If a potential mentor asks questions, listens, and advises, it could be a relationship worth investing in.
Just as you would following a job interview, it’s important to send a follow-up message thanking a potential mentor for his or her time. If the possibility of partnership was there, suggest doing it again sometime and even encourage putting something on the calendar. Start slow, but use managing up strategies to push the relationship forward.
It takes time to establish a trusted relationship with a new mentor, but the benefits of having a professional advisor, guide, and friend are real. Capitalize on connection by asking for feedback, advice, or new connections. With the right approach, you can use a mentor’s knowledge, experience, and network to take the next steps in your career.
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Jill Nawrocki is a Licensed Social Worker and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer living in Brooklyn. She is an ultra runner, freelance writer and social justice warrior with a background in program management, direct practice, mindfulness and advocacy.