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If you don’t have a mentor, get one … or two … or three

In one of my undergraduate classes, I had the opportunity to learn about learning. More specifically, to learn about how adults learn best.

One of the first pieces of work I stumbled on was written by Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the study of adult learning. He observed that adults learn best when:

  • They understand why something is important to know or do.

  • They have the freedom to learn in their own way.

  • Learning is experiential.

  • The time is right for them to learn.

  • The process is positive and encouraging.

Fast forward a few years (or decades really), and these learning requirements still ring true. In my professional work, I help people apply these strategies to real world applications for career design, career development, and career transition.

In years past, training departments within companies provided clear development paths that aligned with fully detailed career options. Human resource and learning and development managers were in place to help employees—especially employees of high potential—navigate the training and development needs to excel and grow with the company.

Today, most HR organizations are responsible for everything related to employees and do not have much time for extensive learning and development activities. In many companies, employees are left on their own to “just figure it out” when it comes to staying current on training needs, certification requirements, and soft skills development for management positions.

If you are serious about excelling in your work—as an employee or an entrepreneur—seeking out mentors for career guidance is a must. Mentoring is about engaging with someone who has more experience in something than you do. Mentoring is about learning what made the mentor successful and trying on that approach for yourself.

  • Mentors can help you understand what training you need and why you need it. Based on their experiences, they can help you understand the value of some learning opportunities over others.

  • Mentors can help you figure out what you need to excel and how best for you to learn. They may be able to offer just-in-time learning opportunities on their teams or elsewhere in your organization.

  • Mentors can help connect you to people or opportunities that help you engage in projects, programs, or events you might not otherwise have access to.

  • Mentors can help you plan a strategy that prepares you for career opportunities. They can help you be ready when the time comes.

  • Mentors have been there before. They can help and encourage you as you learn and grow.

In one of my last corporate roles, I developed a mentoring program. Participants sought mentors for a variety of reasons. Some of those follow:

  • Help with a computer application (Excel, Access, SharePoint, etc.)

  • Preparation for new management role

  • Strategic planning for new organization

  • English skills practice

  • Social media usage

  • Career planning

If you are struggling with where to find help, how to move your career forward, or any type of skill or development need, mentoring may be a great option for you.

If you are part of a large company, check your company’s intranet site to find out if there is a formalized mentoring program you can join. If you are part of a small organization, speak with your HR department to determine if mentoring options exist. If you are a member of an association, check their website and determine if they have a mentoring structure. And, if you are impressed by someone’s capability in something, consider asking them to mentor you.

Mentoring is a great way to learn, to grow, and to connect.

Is mentoring a good option for you?

For more information on mentoring or to learn about mentoring opportunities available outside of your organization, please check out

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