Leaders cannot be mass-produced, but are developed through life-on-life mentoring… There’s no life-change without life-exchange. – Dr. Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders (1)
Finding a mentor was simultaneously the best thing I have ever done and also the hardest to commit to- at first. Why was it so hard? Because we are busy. We barely find time to put in a full work week, hit the gym, play with our kids, grow in our marriages, keep up with our friends and find time for ourselves. When in the world are we going to have time to meet with a mentor? And what even is a mentor?
Definition: A mentor is a person or friend who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modeling positive behaviors. An effective mentor understands that his or her role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee.
How I see it is a mentor is someone that through his or her own life experiences has accumulated a level of wisdom that you could greatly benefit from when navigating your own set of life experiences, struggles, and pain.
And no, it’s not the same as a therapist or counselor. While they are also greatly beneficial to see, therapists and counselors are mostly clinical. They are only there for your set appointments and keep a professional distance from their clients.
As someone who is constantly on this journey of self-growth and holds a fascination with human behavior, I can attest to having seen a handful of counselors, therapists, psychologists and attended various workshops and retreats hosted by said professions. While I can’t tell you the difference necessarily amongst each of these professions, the one that has stood out in my life has been the role of Mentor.
I met George about four years ago right before chaos broke out in my life. He has been by my side through a divorce, a major job transition, starting my own private firm, learning to date again (still learning), building a men’s group, a two-year non-compete lawsuit, hiring a new team, growing in my relationship with God, and learning to be a better son, boss and future father and husband.
He’s also taught me what it means to be a mentee- how to listen, learn and grow into a mentor for others based on the wisdom he has shared with me and the depth of experiences we have navigated together.
George has taught me that it’s not a sprint to the end, but that it’s a life-long process to self-betterment. It’s a lifelong pursuit and quest for knowledge.
Who is a Mentor?
At this point as you’re reading, you might be asking yourself, “This mentorship sounds like a great thing, but who could be my mentor?” The honest and simple answer is: anyone you respect. Like we said earlier, a mentor is someone with more experience who guides and develops someone with less experience.
The first step in finding your own mentor might be to just sit down for a morning and really think about your life goals. Maybe make a list of long-term verses short-term goals to help you figure out what you want to accomplish in life. By making a list, you’ll start to see a trend through your goals that will help you decide what you want from a mentorship. This will help you narrow down who you are looking for.
Then take a look around you. Think of all the people you admire, professionally and personally. Whose life would you want to emulate? Whose character and ethics best match up with your goals? And even more important, who would you get along with? Even if you are looking for a professional mentor, you still want someone you can shoot the breeze with because a mentor should be someone you are or could become comfortable with.
A Work Mentor
Mostly traditionally, a mentor is something you search for in the business world. As a young person or anyone going into a new profession, having a more experienced colleague in the field by your side can by irreplaceable.
Some companies even have formal mentoring programs. These companies really understand the power of this relationship and are always looking to better the future of their company.
“In a more formal mentoring program, you set specific objectives,” says Deb Cohen, senior vice president for knowledge development at the Society for Human Resource Management. (2) While I think this is important in any mentor relationship, when it’s handled internally by a company there is no room for wasted time. So if you’re taking part in a formal mentoring program, which I highly recommend, be ready for setting and achieving goals in specified times.
If your workplace doesn’t offer anything like this, asking a co-worker who is a couple steps up from you is a great place to look. This could be anyone in your department or maybe even someone in another department you could see yourself moving to. This can be a more informal situation, but I still suggest setting up and following through with your goals. And if you can’t find anyone in your company, don’t be afraid to find someone on the outside.
“A mentor outside will help you with a broader perspective on your profession,” – Cohen. (2)
Having that outsider’s perspective can be a huge help if you’re facing professional changes in the company or if you’re considering leaving. Just make sure you aren’t sharing any trade secrets.
A Family Mentor
My most important mentor would be the one who’s been there through it all: my mom. She’s had a very successful career herself and always has spot-on advice for work situation.” –Megan Peters, Community Manager, Mashable.com (6)
A not-so-obvious place to look for a mentor is right in your own family. Whether we know it or not, we’ve imprinted most of our ethics and characteristics from our families while we were growing up.
Most of us acquired a core set of values from our parents and relatives and those friends we were with early in our life. From our work ethic to our self-image, and from our perceptions of others to whether we are optimists or pessimists, the fingerprints of countless people are all over us. – Dr. Don Meyer, “The Power of a Mentor” (3)
From the beginning of our lives we are surrounded by people who could be mentors. Maybe you look up to an uncle who started his own company after 20 years in his industry. Maybe it’s your mom’s ‘never-give-up’ spirit that kept your family running despite many financially hard years that makes you want to stay optimistic in your own business. The point is, don’t overlook the people closest to you when considering a mentor. My father showed me what it was like throughout my childhood to have an amazing work ethic, be a supportive and attentive father and husband, and to be a leader with the utmost integrity. That’s a mentor.
Finding a Mentor
Finding a mentor can be extremely difficult and totally intimidating. Think about it- you’re approaching someone you admire and asking if they can take time out of their busy schedules to help you figure your life out. Yeah, intimidating.
But really, the person you are asking most likely did the same thing when they were younger and are looking to pay it forward. So don’t be afraid, get excited— this could change the course of your life forever!
How to Ask Someone to be Your Mentor
Set up a face-to-face meeting to ask: Whether you know them or not, meeting in person is the best way to show your personality and character to your perspective mentor. You want to tell them how much you respect their work and how much you want to learn from them. Find a place that you’ll feel comfortable asking questions and is easily accessible for their busy schedules. If you absolutely can’t meet them in person to ask, a brief email stating your case will do. Most people will immediately deal with emails that require less than a minute to process. (4)
Be respectful of their time: Most likely you are asking this person because they are successful, which also means they are going to be very busy. Be super clear about your goals, set dedicated times and be on time, and come prepared with questions for your meetings.
“Anyone giving up their time to help you with your professional life career is going to want to make sure their time is being spent wisely,”- digital strategist Lisa Williams (5)
It’s ok if they say ‘no.’: We’ve all had to say (or are learning to say) ‘no’ for things in our own lives. Don’t take it personally. Just take another look around your office for people in positions you would like to be in, or maybe a friend or relative knows someone whose experiences could be beneficial for you in the coming years. Don’t give up. If you’ve already gone to this much trouble, you know this is something you need in your life. Keep asking until you find your ‘yes.’
Being a Mentor
Maybe at some point in your life, you’ll find yourself in a place to be a mentor. Remember all those struggles you went through in your 20s or how you always managed to find favor with your clients? Those lessons you learned are just waiting to be shared. There is someone out there who would love to sit down with you and benefit from your knowledge and experience. I’ve now noticed I’m in a place in my life where others have reached out for professional guidance or some encouragement during periods of major life transitions. What a great way for me to help by sharing some of the many things I’ve been fortunate to have learned from mentors in my life.
Is it time for you to pay it forward?
As I sit here typing this, I literally can’t express how excited and eager I am to share with anyone who will listen to all that I have learned and am still learning. If I can help you in anyway find, interview, or evaluate potential mentors for your life journey, reach out and I’m here to help.
- Becoming a Life Giving Mentor by Dr. Tim Elmore
- Benefits of a Mentor by Rachel Louise Ensign
- The Power of a Mentor by Don Meyer, Ph.D.
- 5 Tips for Finding and Keeping a Mentor by Mel Carson
- 9 Tips to Land a Great Mentor: How to Ask a Stranger for Career Advice by Sabina Nawaz
- 4 Tips for Finding Great Career Mentors by Lisa Quast
Any opinions are those of David Adams and not necessarily those of Raymond James.