There’s nothing better than having a mentor at work—someone to offer you guidance in your career, give you advice on your day-to-day responsibilities, and help you succeed within the organisation. So when that person leaves? Well, it can be tough. Not only did you likely just lose your biggest advocate, you may also have just lost your closest friend at the office.
The good news is, if you approach the transition correctly, you’ll be just fine—and you may even be able to take greater control of your future because of it.
Your first step should be to identify what role your mentor played in your career: Maybe she was your manager and you’ll soon be adjusting to a new boss, or perhaps she was the person who helped you gain visibility within your company. In any case, once you’ve determined the void she’ll leave, you can come up with an action plan to fill it.
If Your Mentor Was Your Manager
If your mentor was also the person you reported to every day, she no doubt understood your strengths and capitalised on them—she may have noticed your strong social skills and selected you for a project with above-average client interaction, or she may have observed your perfectionist streak and assigned you to analytical work. And by understanding your talents, she probably trusted you with your tasks and granted you a lot of autonomy.
So understandably, when a new boss steps in, this transition can be tough. But rather than longing for the old days or grumbling that your new manager doesn’t give you the level of responsibility you’re used to, you need to work on winning her over. Keep doing your same awesome work, show enthusiasm about her new initiatives, and look for opportunities to take on new assignments, especially in areas that showcase your best skills. Seek feedback on your performance, even if she doesn’t offer it outright, and respond to that input.
Even if your new boss doesn’t become your new mentor, taking initiative, doing great work, and being receptive to feedback will definitely get you on her good side.
If Your Mentor Was Your Connection to Senior Colleagues
True mentors help their mentees gain visibility and cultivate new senior relationships. They understand that promotions and high-quality assignments often come from being well-known throughout the company, and they look for opportunities to create that exposure. To that end, your mentor may have recommended you for great projects or assignments or made sure that you were invited to join certain task forces or committees.
Now, without your mentor to rely on, you’ll be responsible for gaining this visibility on your own. This means you need to spend time seeking out the projects or teams you want to work on and asking to be involved in them. You may have to increase communication with your manager or other colleagues to know what new initiatives are even in the pipeline.
You’ll also need to cultivate new and stronger senior relationships on your own. To do this, you should begin to view every interaction with associates, especially senior ones, as opportunities to network—think company functions, meetings, or even chatting with people in the break room.
No, none of this is particularly easy, but your departing mentor may have actually done you a favour by forcing you to transition to a stage of your career when you have to rely more on your own initiative than on others’ recommendations.
If Your Mentor Was Your Advisor
Maybe your mentor wasn’t in a position to directly help your career by getting you good assignments, but the advice she gave you had a profound impact on your career choices and success: She may have helped you brainstorm the best career move to make next, identified your weaknesses and helped you develop a strategy to overcome them, or given great insight when you faced a problem.
In this case, turn your mentor’s departure into an opportunity to get some new perspectives. Identify a few other people you could turn to for career guidance and input, and start slowly by asking for advice on a couple of small things and using that as a building point for new relationships. These advisors don’t have to be newly adopted mentors, they just need to be professionals you respect and trust.
Of course, the hardest part of your mentor leaving may be the feeling that you’re losing a role model and friend. But remind yourself that though you may not be able to interact with her daily, she hasn’t died—just moved on. Sure, she’ll be busy in her new role, but she’ll welcome periodic calls or emails from you and will want to continue to help if she can.
Losing a mentor isn’t easy, but it may be just the catalyst you need to take greater control of your future. Who knows, the new senior relationships you develop may offer career insights that you had never considered. And of course, a mentor that leaves the company for another may be more useful to you than you realise. Perhaps you’ll join her again one day!
Terri Tierney Clark edits a website called Advice for the New Careerist to help young professional women optimise their careers. She also manages an advisory business, Summit Equity Advisors which offers private equity-related services to financial services companies. Previously, Terri was one of the first female Managing Directors in the Investment Banking Division at Merrill Lynch, managed its Real Estate Private Equity Placement business and was elected to the firm’s first Women’s Steering Committee. Find her @TheNewCareerist.
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