The other day, I was asked to be a mentor to a young woman new to sales management. Naturally, I was honored but it caused me to reflect on my experiences with mentorship. In my 57 rotations around the sun, I have been mentored by some great people that forever changed my life. The tragedy of being mentored is that you might not fully appreciate or know the true value of what you received until years later after they unfortunately passed, retired or moved into obscurity.
As I look back, my best mentors came at a time when I was not looking for one. But, consider for a moment that you see someone in dire need of help, what do you do? You help them. The same holds true for us when we are ripe for a mentor to enter into our lives; Someone will unconsciously see that we are in need, that we are hungry for knowledge and receptive to help.
Human beings have an uncanny ability to sense when someone is in need of something they have in abundance to give.
However, being hungry and being receptive do not go hand-in-hand. It is not uncommon for me to encounter professionals that seek help, but are unwilling to be receptive to my feedback or criticism. (Avoid those situations!)
A final thought (before we get to the list!): I have been honored to be a mentor as well as honored to have been mentored; so I say to those who have helped shape me, thank you! And to those whom I have had the honor of mentoring, thank you because you have given me an outlet to “pay-it-forward!”
1. You can’t go out and look for a mentor.
I think there’s some serendipity to finding a mentor. Asking someone to be your mentor doesn’t work. It never worked for me. The best mentors in my life have been the ones that I would have never expected, and I would never have sought them out. It just happened.
That said, I think lightning is more apt to hit a lightning rod than some random piece of ground. You just have to put your lightning rod up and out that you’re seeking a mentor.
2. You have to be vulnerable.
As a mentee, prepare yourself to be humble and authentic about the things you are struggling with. You have to put it out there. And a good mentor will process that and coach you through that. Coaching is how the mentor relationship starts. Then, your mentor will share their wisdom, their experiences and some of their struggles. There needs to be mutual vulnerability, and that starts with the mentee.
3. A good mentor asks questions.
If they’re not asking questions (and asking the right questions) find someone else.
4. We have to dismiss that mentors come in certain shapes and sizes.
One shape is that they are older than you. Or that they are leaps and bounds ahead of you professionally. Or that they work in your field. We have to dismiss some common beliefs. You need to get outside yourself to see yourself, and the only way to do that is to seek out someone different from yourself.
5. Corporate mentor programs don’t work.
I sometimes have clients come to me and say they’d like to start a mentor program…and then I talk to them and it becomes clear they are wanting to get older folks to talk to younger folks.
Or, I run into companies that don’t really want to create a mentor program, they want to create a structured coaching program. There is a difference.
6. Throw your rule book out the window. And whatever you do, don’t meet in your office!
If your program is structured, it’s hard for the mentor to become mutually vulnerable with the mentee –and to me that is the most important piece. Those are priceless moments, because you see the true authenticity and vulnerability in that person. And they can share the potholes of life with you so that you can avoid them.
For that reason, don’t meet in an office setting. It gives home court advantage to the mentor sitting behind the desk –they will always know they are in control. And when it comes to mentoring, no one is in control. In a good mentor/mentee relationship, no one is driving the bus.
7. You’re not accountability partners. But a good mentor can become your champion.
If you’re a true professional, you hold yourself accountable. But what you need is a 2 a.m. friend. Pick a primary witness to your successes and failures. As human beings, we like witnesses to our lives. We perform better for a person that we want to cheer us on, to be a good witness. Find someone to champion you. We don’t need critical parents in our lives, we need champions in our lives.
8. Don’t use your mentor relationship to push an agenda. You’ll get smoked out.
I don't need to explain this one, right?
9. The first couple conversations are going to be awkward.
Know it and embrace it. You’ll get through it!