The writer in one of his coaching sessions.
The writer in one of his coaching sessions.

This week, I received an incredibly empowering message on my Instagram feed.

A young man wrote to me saying that he had been following me for a year and half on social media, and that he found my posts, columns and videos an inspiration. He had taken me as a mentor of sorts, even though I did not know him. He thanked me for doing what I do, and encouraged me to continue.

I was really touched by his message.

But it also made me think about what it means to have a mentor for your career growth.

In my 2016 book *So, You Want To Get Promoted?* which focused on helping young people learn about upward mobility in their careers, I offer 5 keys that will unlock potential for growth. The fifth is about finding mentors.

At present, a large part of my professional life is centred on being a leadership coach for various individuals from businesses and corporations.

There are some differences between a mentor and a coach.

Often a mentor does it voluntarily, whereas a coach gets paid. But most notably, a coach tends to guide you professionally and offer you direct pathways to mapping out your future, while mentors on the hand are people who know you quite well, and make suggestions based on that understanding.

I reckon anyone who truly wants to get ahead in their career, should get a mentor who can guide them.

Every budding entrepreneur knows this. If a start-up wants to upscale its business, the promoter should spend time with someone who has already done the same, so that he or she learns from them and actively gets useful advice.

If you want to move up in your company, you need to understand more than just how to do your job. You will need to know how to navigate through the human resource department, the finance department, the directors, difficult colleagues, and so on.

A mentor is someone who has done what you want to do, and therefore can teach you how to steer through the labyrinth of complex organisational structures.

In every executive’s life, it is the ability to manage people that determines if you make it to the top.

How do you identify a mentor?

Start by looking at what your strengths are, and what skills you lack. For instance, some people are very good at their job, but they struggle with relationship management, and find it hard to influence others.

When you have enough emotional intelligence to accept that this is your weakness, you can look for a mentor who is skillful at building relationships with others, and learn from them.

The start-point for everything in life, and significantly in your career, is to determine your purpose, and be driven by that. Therefore, understand that even seeking to identify a mentor requires self-awareness.

What are the tangible benefits of having a mentor?

You will gain valuable advice from a mentor. They can offer useful insights and ideas on what it takes to get ahead. They have been where you are, and have taken steps that have propelled them forward.

This means they can offer you guidance and help you decide on the best course of action in difficult situations. They can also share shortcuts that will help you work more effectively.

Having a mentor will help you augment your knowledge and skills. Someone who has walked the path you are on can share with you the skills and expertise you need in order to succeed. A mentor can teach you what you need to know, or at least offer you avenues of where you can get more ideas.

If you choose a mentor properly, you will find that they usually have excellent communication ability, and you can learn from them. I have repeatedly reminded the people who attend my leadership coaching programme that being able communicate with clarity, consistency and courteousness is arguably the single most important skill for career growth.

A mentor will also have an extensive network of personal and professional contacts. They would have built this up over the years of plying their trade. Leveraging on this, you can by extension, build your own network.

And, finally as you develop trust

in your mentor, you will allow them to help you stay focused and on track in your career through advice, skills development, and networking.

Sun Microsystems which has merged with Oracle USA, to become Oracle America Inc. showed in an internal study a few years ago that employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn't have mentors. This is a noteworthy statistic.

Having a mentor means that you will have someone in your inner circle who believes in you. They will be willing to offer you insights for your growth; at times reprimand you when you slacken; and who will offer your sanctuary when you make mistakes.

Get yourself a mentor, if you want to grow professionally. It will most definitely help you.

Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”