Finding a Mentoring

Finding a mentorFinding a mentor

ASTD magazine (Francis, 2009) reported an interesting study. In 2007, protégés at Rockwell Collins were surveyed in order to discover how mentoring contributed to the company's success. They identified three major areas, shown in order of importance:

In 2009 they were asked the same question, but responded quite differently as the order of importance had changed:

The result shows a growing mind set in that the protégé went from encouragement and support (2007 study), to sharing knowledge (2009 study). Thus, the employees moved from seeing the mentoring program as a development process that may help their careers, to more of a learning resource for learning new knowledge and skill sets.

This shift is probably a good one in that it now targets specific needs, which in turn, will help employees to find a mentor by limiting their scope. Once the employees (protégé) and mentors have become comfortable with their relationship, then they can then further probe their mentors to see if they might be able to help with their career development.

Finding a good mentor can often be difficult, if not almost impossible as good mentors are normally very good at their work, thus they already have high demands for their skills and time, which means they might be reluctant to take on a new protégé. Yet as the Levinson's Eras Model of Adult Development show, most want to help as young adults normally seek to establish meaningful relationships, while middle-aged adults want to make an impact on the generation that follows them (Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson, McKee, 1978).

To increase your chances, it often helps to be specific about what you want from a mentor. The more certain you are about your needs, the more likely you will find a mentor to meet those needs. For example, when selecting a mentor it helps to do some probing (pick their brains):


“Will you be my mentor?”

But rather,

“Sue, if you have some time available soon, could you explain to me why our company has not gone after the Acme account?”


“Dan, if you have some spare time, could you explain the actual skills I need to become a computer trainer?”

Most people, especially those with the instinct to be a mentor, will respond favorably to such requests, in addition, they have probably learned from others, thus will encourage and support others who want to learn from them. And if so, then ask another question. This might or might not lead to having that person become your full-time mentor, but in any case, it will increase your knowledge and skills. Some people might only give a two-minute lecture, but they should be impressed with your curiosity, even if they do not say so.

This targeting of expertise will also guide you towards the specific area or function so that others may possibly help you to identify a potential mentor. In addition, consulting with managers, human resource specialists, and peers can be helpful in identifying a possible mentor.

In addition, once you have gained expertise in one or more areas, then considering returning the favor by mentoring others, even if it is for a short-term special project — for one of the best ways to learn is to teach others.

Next Steps

Mentoring Resources

Return to the Leadership Training and Development Outline


Francis, L.M. (2009). Shifting the Shape of Mentoring. T+D Magazine. September issue. ASTD: Alexandria, VA.

Levinson, D.J., Darrow, C.N, Klein, E.B., Levinson, M H., McKee, B. (1978). Seasons of a Man's Life. New York: Knopf.