By Corbette Doyle and Bill Kruegerr

In the last column, we discussed strategies for soliciting feedback to help improve your performance. Over the next few columns we will discuss mentors (i.e. trusted advisors) and sponsors (i.e. advocates for your career).

She Wrote (Corbette):
So many women seem to be searching for mentors these days that Sheryl Sandburg entitled a Lean In chapter, “Are You My Mentor?” What is a mentor and what are appropriate ways to “find” one? First, let’s agree that an ideal mentor isn’t directly responsible for the work you do. Instead, they serve as a sounding board for issues you are trying to work through. The issues may range from life-balance questions to dealing with a difficult colleague to learning how to build a network, which can be particularly valuable for budding entrepreneurs.

Very few mentors can address the gamut of topics you might want to discuss, which is why it can be so valuable to have what many refer to as a “personal board of directors,” each of whom you turn to for different topics. Often, these advisors won’t realize you view them as a mentor, and that’s okay. Serving as a mentor may imply a sense of obligation successful, and time-strapped, executives eschew. But many may be more than willing to provide insight or to make an introduction. With time, some of these may turn into a more traditional, and enduring mentoring relationship, one that is characterized by a high level of trust between the mentor and mentee.

He Wrote (Bill):
Asking for feedback is intimidating and tough.  I find it is also an uncomfortable experience to deliver feedback.  For this reason it usually takes place infrequently or often only takes place when the feedback has reached a crisis moment.  No news is good news but when the boss wants to see you, it has to be bad news.  The 360 performance review is great, but it generally suffers the S.M.A.R.T. feedback attributes of being specific, relevant, and timely. As both a receiver and sender of feedback, I find that most often you have to push the feedback on the receiver and pull it from the sender.  In both cases YOU need to be the initiator.  Start out very basic at first and make a habit out of having a brief and specific dialog, debrief, about the feedback material immediately following the observable action.  Recently, I have tried to deliver short to the point e-mails or text messages minutes or seconds after my observations of deliveries to trigger follow-up discussions.  As the feedback sender, “Great job, way to stay on topic, let’s discuss some improvement ideas that could have been discussed in our next one on one.”  As the feedback requester, “Did you think my message was understood?  Can you give me some more specific feedback after the meeting?”

In the next column we will discuss strategies for the mentee to maximize a mentoring relationship. Following that, we will discuss how to be an effective mentor—and how to politely decline a request to be a mentor.

About the Authors:
Corbette Doyle launched her dream career as a lecturer at Vanderbilt University after corporate careers as both an intrapreneur and a Fortune 500 global chief diversity officer. William (“Bill”) Krueger is a senior executive with almost 30 years of experience in the automotive industry and a life-long student of leadership practice.