If you're seeking feedback or advice or simply a listening ear from a trusted colleague or group of colleagues, then finding a coach or mentor might be the right fit for you. In a 2015 Career Compass article from Dr. Frank Benest, ICMA's liaison for Next Generation Initiatives, he notes that everyone can benefit from a coach.
"Coaches listen, ask questions, provide different perspectives, suggest additional options or choices for action, challenge our thinking or attitudes, and prompt action. They encourage and support us. They don't dole out answers. Instead, they help you find the answers that are right for you."
Here are nine key points that mentees should keep in mind when creating relationships with mentors:
1. Set up a regular meeting. The easiest approach to get some informal coaching is to invite on a regular basis a trusted local government manager to coffee or to lunch. During these sessions, swap stories and personal experiences.
2. Focus on a "growth mindset." With a growth mindset, we look at challenges and at experimenting and even at mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. By doing this, we expand our portfolio of behaviors, skills, and relationships and ultimately become more effective in a disruptive environment.
3. Be open to the conversation. It is important to not only share your challenges and dilemmas with a coach, but to be open to the feedback and any suggestions on how to handle similar problems in the future.
4. Use the coach to promote self-reflection. Great leaders are self-reflective. Coaches can ask probing questions that promote reflection and self-critique and opportunities to make adjustments. After an informal or formal coaching conversation, reflect on what has been discussed and the implications for self-correction.
5. Learn from the stories. Chief executives love to tell war stories. Don't just enjoy the swapping of stories—probe for lessons that may be related to your dilemma or challenge.
>> For more on how to get the maximum value from informal peer advice or more formal executive coaching, read Career Compass No. 45: City Managers Need Coaches Too.
6. Listen and take action. Listen to every piece of familiar advice like it is new advice. Instead of thinking “I know,” ask yourself, “Have I mastered it? Have I seen the result?” If the answer is no, make a plan and take action.
7. Don't rely on professional help as a crutch forever. The goal of seeking professional help is to shorten your learning path, to become independent and competent faster.
8. Seek advice from all career stages. There’s a tendency to determine the value of advice based on who it came from. When you receive guidance from someone that you regard as your superior—someone with an impressive title—you’re more likely to give their advice more weight and take it more seriously. The most insightful advice, however, may come from someone among your peers, an outsider, or even someone you might have considered less knowledgeable than you.
9. Recognize when to seek out help. Some skills can only be accumulated over time, while some are a matter of knowledge and experience. There is no need to reinvent every wheel. Human progress is made on the foundation laid by previous generations. You reach further by standing at a higher ground to start with, so it is important to recognize when to ask for help. Asking for help where it matters is a sign of strength, instead of weakness.
>> For more on how to create—and maintain—the mentor-mentee relationship, read Keys to Find (and Make the Most of) Your Professional Mentor.