Kris Akabusi is a former sprint and hurdling track and field athlete, with 9 medals won at numerous Olympic Games and World Championships, a TV personality and he’s been awarded an MBE.

Many athletes of his calibre usually run before they can walk, but this was not the case for Kris, who spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between children’s homes with no real sense of direction or hope.

When Kris was 16 he joined the army and was taken under the wing of a Sergeant Ian McKenzie, who saw his talent and made him feel that his life had a sense of purpose. The army was the family that Kris never had and Sergeant McKenzie became an inspiring role model and mentor for Kris – in fact he still is to this day.

A mentor can be that missing link between a promising career and a successful one so, why is it that so many of us are still to find our own Sergeant McKenzie? A recent survey carried out by CareerBuilder found that 84% of people who had a mentor said that they helped enormously with their career advancement.  

Here, Carole Gaskell, CEO of one of the UK’s top culture change, leadership and coaching organisation’s Full Potential Group shares with you her top tips to ensure that you find your very own Sergeant McKenzie.

Understand what you want and need from a mentor-mentee relationship

Before approaching a potential mentor – and remember YOU must be the one to make first contact – identify what you hope to gain from the relationship. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are your short term career objectives?
  • Where do you see yourself in 2 years?
  • What do you need to do to get yourself there? – What skills do you think you will need?

Answering these questions can help identify who could be the right fit for you. Depending on your career goals, your potential mentor may be someone only a step or two above you on the ladder or you may be aiming much higher. Seek out someone who possesses traits you admire, shares common values and whose approach to their career you would like to emulate. 

If you’re still unsure who to approach, ask colleagues or your manager if they feel that there is someone suitable. If your organisation runs a mentoring programme is there someone they can pair you with based on your goals and the mentors skillset and knowledge?

Don’t limit your search

Don’t let gender or age hinder your search for a mentor. Sometimes there is a stigma surrounding young women being mentored by older male executives within their organisation, with both parties often being nervous that a mentor-mentee relationship would be seen in an unprofessional light. 

However, if you are a female working within a male dominated environment then the person that you are going to learn the most and gain the most insight and wisdom from will probably be a male. If this is the case then ensure that your meetings are in public and at regular times and places.

Age should also not be seen as a deciding factor in choosing the best mentor. A good mentor can be older or indeed younger than you, it’s their stage in career that is important, perhaps an older mentor close to retirement might have more time to be able to give back. If they are younger then are they busy starting a new role, or business? Are they at a stage where they could see you as potential competition? Remember that their life stage doesn’t always match their age.

How to approach your potential mentor

Two things are key here: having the self-confidence to approach your potential mentor and doing the ground work so that when you do approach them you are prepared with a plan as to how you feel this partnership can work. Be honest as to why you would like to work with them. Be prepared to share your career objectives, short term goals, and your accomplishments to date. Your potential mentor needs to be able to determine if they will be able to help you on your career path. 

Set goals, ground rules and a schedule

Now you have found your mentor, it is time for your first meeting. Remember, you drive these sessions and control what you get out of them. Your first meeting will set the tone of the relationship so use it to get to know one another and if you don’t hit it off straight away don’t panic – go with an open mind and remember it takes time to build trust and a mentor-mentee relationship. 

Once the first session is over and both mentor and mentee have agreed that this will be a successful partnership then put together a timetable for regular meetings. Set up ground rules that covers the topics you will discuss, what you both hope to achieve as well as your expectations and priorities. 

Ensure you meet in a suitable environment, ideally out of your direct working space, so that you are able to fully open up and ensure that when you are in your meeting you focus purely on the issues at hand.

Keep a session log and make notes after each of your sessions. Use this to check on your progress and review and evaluate the relationship and its progress.  

Above all remember that the mentor-mentee relationship should be mutually beneficial, so find ways that you can give back and when the time comes for someone in your organisation to approach YOU about becoming their mentor then ensure that you pay it forward.

Carole Gaskell, CEO, Full Potential Group