A 2017 study by Egon Zehnder reports that 74% of women aspire to reach executive leadership roles, yet only 54% have access to senior mentors or informal sponsors. The study also suggests that women that have already reached the c-suite or equivalent have the most access to advocacy and support, while others trying to ascend see a decline in offerings as they age.  This study exposes a huge gap in mentorship and career acceleration programs over the span of a professional women’s career that can only be remedied by increasing the number of individuals that speak out and request this kind of support, and the organizations they work for having sustainable programs in place to oblige.

Are you looking to incorporate mentorship into your career journey? Here are my tips to getting started and maximizing your experience:

Identify the areas in which you want to excel and surround yourself with those who have already mastered them.  

I knew early on that I wanted to be a great people manager, so I observed leaders who had thriving, motivated teams. I became a sponge, and absorbing their best practices and philosophies allowed me to have the knowledge and confidence to successfully lead a team of 1,000+ later on in my career. I used the same approach when I wanted to improve my financial management skillset or better understand latest technologies.

Chemistry is key. 

Everyone has that friend or relative who at some point in their life insisted that they had found the perfect person for you to date. Chances are you’ve also had peers and colleagues suggest a perfect mentor or two along the way. Recommendations are great, but the end of the day, you need to decide who is right for you.

Neha Saini, an MBA candidate at Cornell University worked with multiple mentors before turning to a more familiar source-her uncle. “With him, I felt comfortable sharing experiences where I could use some advice. He would offer an unbiased, objective and practical perspective. Many people are seeking advice and find no one to turn to, I am very fortunate to have him, knowing that he may not offer me a solution, but I can always count him to direct me well.”

Mentorship involves high levels of trust and communication-if you aren’t clicking after the first meeting, it is OK to move on, for both yourself and the mentor.

Embrace reverse-mentoring. 

There are currently 5 generations in today’s workforce. From Boomers to Generation Z, each group carries with them a unique blend of talent, knowledge and communication styles. As a member of Gen X, I was inclined to look at those who have more experience than me, but, as my career grew and with a larger group of younger talents within my team, I found that I had so much to learn from the Millennials around me. As a leader of large organizations, there were times where I would communicate through my leadership teams, but it didn’t seem to resonate with the younger team members. After speaking with them, I learned that they responded best to smaller groups and direct communication, so I established office hours and roundtable sessions to allow for more meaningful conversations. This improved my relationships across the organization, and allowed me to test ideas and to better understand and learn from the next generation of talent.

Consider Untraditional Forms of Mentorship. 

Mentoring relationships can take many forms – unstructured and informal or structured and formal. For informal mentorship, if there is someone that you look up to or have an area of expertise you can learn from, ask them if they’d be open to grabbing a cup of coffee so you can pick their brain. This has worked 10 times out of 10 for me, and I’ve gotten some of the best wisdom and ideas over my favorite vanilla latte. After the conversation, ask if you can ping them for another coffee from time to time so you can troubleshoot and brainstorm new ideas with them.

If you want to broaden the range of advice you receive, consider what Rick Smith is doing with his personal board of directors.  “As an African American, I often find myself being the only minority in the room. The pressure to perform and conform only adds to the frustration of the glaring lack of heterogeneity and can impact one’s ability to rise.” says Smith, Account Chief Technologist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “I have learned that in order to counter this, establishing a personal board of directors can be very helpful. My board includes men and women of all ages, ranging from mid-tier managers to C-suite executives as well as a palette of creeds. Ironically, this is the very core of the need for diversity, having unique perspectives can lead to end results that may have ever been realized.”

Listen. 

Allow yourself to be open to new thoughts, ideas and courses of action. You never know how a mentor can impact your career, or your life.

“Earlier this year I found myself at a crossroads. I had an established, successful career, but there was little room for growth or creativity.” Says Communications & Public Relations Strategist Katlyn Knox. “After sharing a copy of my resume with my mentor, she insisted that I avoid going the traditional route and take a chance on myself by becoming an independent consultant. I was terrified, but her words stuck with me and ultimately, I did it. That piece of advice has completely changed the course of my career, and my life. I’m so thankful she had the faith in me, even when I didn’t.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from a mentor? Tag them here and thank them!