If you look beyond physicians and other healthcare professionals, finding an informal mentor is simply a matter of keeping your eyes and your mind open.
“You find a mentor by being in different situations,” Dr. Holman says. “Take advantage of getting to know people in different spheres, see what makes them tick that you can learn and apply to yourself.”
Consider all aspects of your life outside the workplace—your neighborhood, your church, your children’s school, any organizations you volunteer for, or social venues. Even your family—does anyone have management or business experience?
Keep your options open for learning from others, but if you have a specific area where you want to gain knowledge, you can search your circle of acquaintances to see who might be able to fill in that gap.
“Outside of healthcare, my personal accountant was a huge help,” says Dr. Gorman. “He sat down with me and helped me understand the financials I was supposed to do. You may have to pay for this service, but if you’re just asking for a few hours of their time and you have a good relationship, they’ll help you out.”
Regardless of what you want to learn, keep in mind that mentors can come in any shape and form. “A mentor can be someone younger than you, someone less well educated,” Dr. Holman points out. “What matters is when you recognize the value of the perspectives they bring.”
In fact, Dr. Holman says, he deliberately looks for people who are a little different from himself. “We tend to gravitate to those who are like us, but [in mentoring] this doesn’t lend itself to the greatest growth long-term,” he explains.
Make Mentoring Work
When you target someone as a potential mentor, it’s best to start with occasional questions and keep the relationship casual.
“My experience—and this is supported by literature—is that mentoring relationships are most solid when they form naturally,” Dr. Holman says. “The mentorship arena lends itself to flexibility and informal structure.”
Dr. Gorman agrees, suggesting that you not even mention “the M word.” “In my experience, asking someone flat out if they’ll be your mentor doesn’t really work,” Dr. Gorman says. “It sounds like a big commitment, and they shy away from it. Instead, I’d say just keep going back to the same people for guidance. Find those people who will listen to you and give you some help.”
Once you establish a mentoring relationship, try to find a way to return the favor—at least by being a good mentee.
“It’s particularly rewarding when mentoring is not one-sided, when each person has something to bring to the table,” Dr. Holman says. “Though it may be mostly one-sided, it’s good to be able to give some advice or counsel in return.”
Dr. Gorman adds that a good mentee either will act on advice or address why they didn’t. “No one likes to give advice just to see you blow it off, or head straight into a situation they warned you against,” she stresses. “Be respectful of their time, and be prepared when you present a problem. And be sure to thank them. You don’t have to send flowers or anything, just a verbal thank you for their time.”
No matter what stage your career is in, you can always pick up new skills and perspectives—particularly if you’re in a leadership position. Even if you feel you’re well established, finding new mentors can only make you better at what you do.