Today's Challenge: Finding a Mentor

This is the next installment in a weekly series in which I attempt to answer a question submitted by a leader somewhere in the world. Today, I’ll address a question I’ve actually answered many times over the years. Today’s Challenge: How do I find a mentor?

Let’s begin by defining the term mentor. There are many outstanding definitions out there – for me a mentor is someone who agrees to share their time, knowledge and experience with you, over time, in the context of a personal relationship.
With this definition in mind, I’ll start by challenging the premise of the opening question. Often, what we need is not a single mentor… we need several. Here’s why: If we want to grow in a specific area of our life or enhance a specific skill, we need someone who’s gifted and experienced in that arena. Suppose we want to grow in multiple areas; to expect a single person to be qualified in all of our areas of our interest may make finding one mentor extremely difficult. So, the first step is finding a mentor is to free yourself of the expectation that one individual can mentor you in all areas of your life.
Here are a few more ideas that may help…
Determine what you want/need from a mentor. If you want someone to help you grow as a communicator, find a communicator. If you want a mentor to help you raise your children, you’ll probably want someone who has children! A spiritual mentor may not be qualified to be a mentor on issues of health and fitness or how to become a better accountant.
Don’t set the bar too high. This may sound counterintuitive. Of course, we’d all love to be mentored by the world’s best on our topic of choice. However, in most cases, that won’t be possible. The great news is, you don’t have to have the world’s best to help you grow. The only qualification from a competency point-of-view is the man or woman should be ahead of you on the journey and willing to share their experience. If you set the bar too high, you may never find a mentor.
Don’t ask for a lifetime commitment. Some experts suggest having a mentor for life – that’s a long time! Rather than make a life long pact, why not ask the prospective mentor if he or she would be willing to meet with you for one hour a month for 3 months. At the end of the time, evaluate the experience together. Decide if it makes sense to extend for another 3 months. Continue to meet as long as it makes sense. When your time together no longer adds significant value, you may want to find a new mentor.
Spend time together. You’ll want to find someone who’s willing to meet with you on a regular basis. The frequency is up to you and your mentor. You’ll also need to decide if your meetings will be on the phone or in person. Maybe a combination will be best. The critical point here, time is required; not just to share information, but to build and nurture a relationship. That will require an investment of time.
Find someone you enjoy being with. If you have a mentor and you don’t look forward to the time together, you’ve probably got the wrong mentor. Chemistry matters.
As leaders, we’ll continue to learn though a variety of means. Perhaps a mentor needs to be part of your personal and professional development strategy for 2013. [GLS_Shield]

Leave a comment



Parker McGee

8 years ago

Thanks for the insight! I’m generally very hesitant to ask people for things, especially time. That makes it difficult to ask for mentorship even when I know it’s important. One hour a month for 3 months seems like a really reasonable amount to ask for. Great tip, thanks!

mark

8 years ago

Thanks for your comment. In my experience, the best leaders LOVE to help others GROW. If you get a “no,” ask someone else!

Nathan Magnuson

8 years ago

Solid post, Mark. You’ve taken a relevant topic (mentoring) and made it seem easier, less complicated, and less scary (esp. with the part about not asking for a lifelong commitment!)

David Sparks

8 years ago

Enjoyed the tips you placed here – very practical. I’ve been struggling and over-analyzing who I could approach to be a mentor. At first I thought it had to be a one-stop shop. Then I realized that I knew someone who met one of my “needs”. Are they the world’s best in the field? No. But I do believe they can help me move to the next level in a particular area. As a result, we’ve been able to plan some time to meet together.
Any suggestions on how to make the “ask” regarding a mentor?

Jack Lannom

8 years ago

Mark,
I have spent a lot of time reading on this subject and your post is one of the best articles that I have ever read. I especiallly love the section on, ” Don’t set the bar too high.” “The only qualification from a competency point-of-view is the man or woman should be ahead of you on the journey and are willing to share their experience.” That opens up a huge range of mentorship possibilities. Brilliant! Thank you.
Your new student,
Jack Lannom

mark

8 years ago

Thanks for your kind comments! I continue to be YOUR student. Let’s talk again soon. Mark

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