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Long weekends are typically seen as a chance to reconnect with friends and family. You hit the road, catch a flight, and get away from base and recharge with the people who matter most. We’re free for a few days and work is the last thing on our minds.

Frankly, this is a mistake. Take your vacation, but don’t miss out on the huge opportunity in front of you. Talk to your family, catch-up with friends, and…check-in with your mentors.

This past weekend I was fortunate to have conversations with two of my mentors: one initiated by the mentor, and one initiated by me. This would have never happened when I was a new lieutenant, but that’s because a lot has changed within me since then. For one thing, I’ve learned a lot – mostly through failure and frustration.

Over on The Military Leader, there’s a great discussion taking place (part of a 3-part series) about the role of luck in our careers. We certainly know the frustrating sense of powerlessness when luck is absent, but we also know that we can control a lot more than we often realize. We can take some of the luck out of our careers.

When Chevy and I created MilitaryMentors.org, our goal was to break down organizational silos and bring people together.

Military Mentors connects its members and gives them the best tools possible to develop themselves and each other into engaged and self-aware leaders. Military Mentors is not simply an internet forum or a message board, but rather a living community of people who care about personal growth. – From http://militarymentors.org/about-us/

In the process, our hope is that we just might take some of the luck and randomness out of professional development.

Professional mentoring has a natural life-cycle with four phases: initiation, cultivation, separation, and re-definition. We often attribute luck to initiation, but it’s not so one-sided. Being an engaged mentee can change it from luck to choice. Here are our three recommendations for taking control.

  • Focus-Proactivity: Focus refers to giving some clarity to a conversation by having a question, a purpose, or even a goal. Admit doubt, worry, and interest. Proactivity is the willingness to take action rather than sit idle and wait. “Mentors are also impressed by the perception of relationship commitment – behaviors that demonstrate that the mentee really wants the relationship to work and is prepared to invest in it.”
  • Respect/Self-Respect: Strong relationships demonstrate reciprocity – it can’t be one-sided. So, if you haven’t spoken in a while, consider this your opportunity to show your respect and reach out first. It’s also a sign of your own self-confidence. “I’m mature enough to admit that I value this relationship.” That matters.
  • Listening-Articulating: Does your mentor actually know that you view them as one? It’s not uncommon for mentors to be standoffish because they don’t want to be overbearing, while many mentees perceive this as getting the cold shoulder. If you haven’t articulated it, they might not know. If you have articulated it, then it might be time to assess how well you listen. No one wants to waste time on someone who isn’t interested.

 

We have much more control of our professional development than we realize. Yes, luck plays a role, but I’m sure that I missed opportunities to connect with mentors when I wasn’t seizing opportunities. Hopefully, these three skills will help you to form relationships. If you need help finding a mentor, we have plenty in our network, so start a conversation with one of them.

Author’s Note: The life-cycle is based on Kram’s 1985 book “Mentoring at Work”  and the skills and competencies are derived from David Clutterbuck’s analysis and recommendations for establishing and maintaining mentoring relationships found in http://www.sajhrm.co.za/index.php/sajhrm/article/viewFile/70/70


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