Developing mentors is a critical part of getting the guidance and insight you need to make fewer missteps and make more successes in your career, especially early on. The following are a few examples of things I've learned, all ready, from my short time at my company. All were critical decisions and actions that have helped me because I had someone who helped me walk through my thinking and adjust appropriately.
1. Temper your expectations.
As a former hard charger in the Marine Corps leaving the military feeling like I had to prove that I made the right decision in transitioning, I wanted to make an immediate impact at my new company. It's a sales position, and I didn't find the training or networking to be too difficult, but I wasn't seeing the results that I was expecting. Was I not cut out for this? Was I failing at my first civilian job? As this was eating at myself, I brought up my concerns to my mentor in this industry. He laughed. I was looking at a timeline of weeks when I should have been preparing for months and even years. I just didn't have the industry insight to realize that the expectations I put on myself were unrealistic. In fact, he pointed out some of the inroads I had made, as well as the certifications I had completed in a relatively short period.
2. Guide you through the politics.
Politics probably brings up innacurate connotations. What I really mean is understanding the unwritten relationships across the organization. In every group, there are people that hold power by virtue of their experience and position. There are also relationships among teams that are strong, and those that are, shall we say, difficult. This is similar to working across departments in the military. But with less clear hierarchies and less time in the industry, it might be difficult to identify and navigate these things at first. While it's important to learn all you can and network within your own industry and company, a mentor can help point you in the right direction. With mine, I was able to understand who had strained relationships, requiring me to be careful discussing and working with certain members of the team. At the very least, prevented me from making any faux pas that would have been obvious to others who had been around for awhile.
3. Advise you on your "great" ideas.
In throwing myself into my new line of work, I came up with ideas and strategies I thought would really help the company make some headway into some new markets. Fortunately, I thought of running by these ideas by my mentor before executing. One of them was a definite, "No-go." While it seemed like a fine idea, he told me it was too early to proceed and I would be perceived as too aggressive by my customers. I hadn't seen this because I lacked the experience and understanding of some of the nuances of the industry at this time.
Mentors can come from anywhere. In these past examples, my mentors happened to be a couple managers in my company. Still, I wouldn't have gotten this advice if I hadn't been willing to ask questions and push for honest feedback. Start within your network and look for people who exemplify who you want to become. Reach out, ask questions, and show the humility to learn from them. People want to help those that help themselves.