AIRIP launched a mentor program for our members in May 2016 and we are actively seeking mentors and mentees for great mentoring relationships. Learn more about the program, and apply. The following post is from Kristin Lendardson with some thoughts and tips on seeking out mentors and making the most of a mentoring relationship.
Kristin Lenardson is a Senior Intelligence Analyst with AS Solutions for Nike. She has 15 years of experience in the intelligence field, spanning government and private sector positions. In 2013, she was chosen as a participant in the Intelligence Community/Department of Homeland Security’s Public – Private Sector partnership program to work on a one year project to produce an open source product on Identity Theft. She is an AIRIP member, and has been a primary creator and organizer of AIRIP’s mentor program. She is also a co-founder of The International Protective Security Board, an organization focused on training and career development in the protective security field.
Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith once said, "... people seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy." Having the right mentor can help you see yourself, steer you towards goals (often in spite of yourself), and provide another 'model to copy' for success. They are more than a colleague or a friend - they are a professional confidant who believes in you and gives time to help guide and refine your career and professional life.
Finding the right mentor, however, can be tricky; some mentors can be longer term, and yet others can advise on specific issues. In a perfect world, a long-term mentor is someone in a position or career you aspire to achieve. In the shorter term, this could also be someone with more experience to guide you through a specific professional issue or help with a career transition.
I had the pleasure of having a very strong mentor who provided me with knowledge and support when I transitioned from the government into the private sector. I learned a lot through my experience, both positive and negative.
After ten years in the government, I left the FBI and moved to the corporate world into the position of Intelligence Analyst with a Fortune 500 company. The transition was slightly more difficult than I originally anticipated. It was a small team with few resources, and I had to build the Intelligence program from the ground up. My first supervisor was a good person, but at times, our professional relationship was uncomfortable for various reasons. A few months into the position, my supervisor suggested I get a mentor within the company’s official mentor program and, subsequently, chose a mentor for me.
It turned out the mentor was the VP of Human Resources. She had been with the company for 20+ years and had worked her way up from an administrative position to an executive. My mentor knew everyone in the company and was very knowledgeable about the business. She taught me the intricacies of the business, which helped me become more comfortable with my transition. She recommended several internal classes offered by the company in business acumen and human resources related issues. While I would not have ordinarily taken these courses, I was glad I did at her suggestion. I was able to learn about what drove the business and what was important to the C-suite. I learned a lot from my mentor and the classes she recommended.
However, due to the close relationship between my mentor and my supervisor I never felt comfortable having candid discussions with her. They often had lunch and had social interactions outside of work. Because of this, I did not feel I could not discuss all my professional issues, and this perhaps held me back from properly using our relationship to the fullest. Although your mentor should not be your professional counselor, they can be a great sounding board regarding corporate politics.
learned from my mentor. The experience changed how I chose future mentors and how I mentor people now. The four key takeaways from my experience include:
1. You should choose your mentor. Since I did not choose my mentor, at times it was uncomfortable. As a result, our mentorship suffered. If you get into a mentorship situation, and you do not trust your mentor or mentee, end the relationship quickly and professionally.
2. Your mentor does not have to be in a similar profession or level. My mentor was in HR, not security or intelligence. She was also several professional levels up from my position; I was a manager, and she was a VP. I learned quite a bit about the company which ultimately increased my professionalism and business acumen.
3. Think about what type of mentor relationship you would like to have. At the time, I did not actively plan what I wanted to get out of the relationship. In the future experiences, I have put more time and thought into my career goals and either look for a mentor who followed a similarly successful career path, or sought someone with a skill set I want to learn.
4. Understand your mentor relationship and when there is a natural end. Some mentoring relationships go for years and end up as lifelong colleagues or friends. While friendships are an excellent thing, you should go into a mentoring program (especially an official one) with an understanding of the lifecycle and when the ‘professional’ relationship should be closing.
Ultimately, your mentor relationship should be with someone you respect and trust. With a bit of foresight and planning, you can have a very successful experience in which both people feel their time is beneficial to personal and professional growth.