Finding Your Mentor: This Is How You Choose
Updated: May 20, 2022
This Is Not A Commerical
This is hard.
See I want to advocate for you getting a mentor. I want to talk to you about being a great mentee. I want to talk about finding - not just a good mentor - but the right one.
But, see…I am a professional mentor. It’s what I do.
So it feels like…a commercial. And that’s not how I want to do this.
Guys, mentoring is something I believe in. My mentors have meant the world to me. I can’t imagine my path without them.
They spared me a lot of wasted time and energy. They encouraged me in dark moments. They prepped me for change and development.
It’s been awesome.
So…I hope you’ll let go of the commercial and just listen - for a moment - to your memories.
Yes. I said “your memories.” Because you’ve had mentors too.
Uh-huh! Maybe you didn’t call them that, but you had them.
Remember? It wasn’t your swim coach who got you to be brave and jump in the water. That was your big sister. It was your friend who - for better or worse - really explained where babies came from. It was that one good supervisor at that crappy job who told you to do more with your life.
These were your mentors.
When you’re a kid, they come out of nowhere. They just kind of - pop up! It’s when we get older that they seem to thin out. And that’s too bad because things don’t really get easier in the professional, adult world.
I looked it up. Over 30 years of aggregate studies suggest that people with mentors have better career outcomes. They’re paid more. They get more promotions. And most of all, they enjoy a lot more career satisfaction.
Yet most of us just…skip this.
I guess my point is - don’t. Don’t skip it. It’s time to consider yourself a mentee in the making. Let’s get you a mentor!
In this article, we’re not going to talk about approaching a mentor, because I don’t think you’re ready yet. (We’ll do that soon, don’t worry.)
See some people select their mentors pretty haphazardly. And they kind of suck at being mentored. The result is…not pretty. Awkward relationships, icky obligations, and blind alleys are the result.
Instead, I want to talk about the prep work. I know, I know. That doesn’t sound terribly sexy.
But relax. It’s not boring prep work. It’s more like prepping for an adventure.
So. You’re mentor shopping. How exciting! But here’s the dangerous part. It’s really easy to get lazy here. “Who’s older than me and seems to know what they're doing?” That’s often the only criteria.
But remember what I always say - how you do one thing is how you do everything.
And a mentor search shouldn’t be like waiting for the next random bus.
It’s a relationship. Approach it like that. Think about your values, your needs, your personality, and your path. The whole package. Leave out any one of these considerations - and the equation could fall apart.
“...[Y]ou might really benefit from being mentored by a veteran in your industry with tons of relationships,” says Jordan Harbinger, podcaster and thought leader, “but if you don’t share the same values or personality traits, it’s probably not going to be an enjoyable relationship…”
It’s better to create a list of prospects that make up a composite of your wants. Address your priorities at the beginning. That’ll help you build a mentorship that’s on solid and scalable ground.
Consider Your Path. Look around and see who has your dream life. The one that you’re aiming for. That’ll start you off with a blueprint to compare your own growth against. The lessons will be impactful for you specifically. And it might be a hint that your prospective mentor has values that echo your own.
Consider Values and Personality. It might go without saying, but If you’re a person who would rather be shot out of a cannon than wear a suit to work - maybe don’t pick a mentor who looks like Don Draper. If your dream is to live a balanced life and see your kids, don’t ask the workaholic to partner with you.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen people make mistakes here.
To be clear, you don’t need a carbon copy of you. I mean, what would be the point of that?
But connect with a mentor who’s coming from the same basic view of the universe. Someone who has compatible priorities and a recognizable way of communicating. If not, you’ll get stuck walking toward somewhere you don’t want to go.
Choose Relevant Knowledge. Now I want to be clear here, relevant knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be in the same business as you. But they should be a person who can fully weigh in on your questions.
If your questions are sales-oriented, get someone who loves and understands sales. If you have a problem with leadership, choose a leader you admire.
Are They Good at Feedback? Just because someone’s great at their job doesn’t mean they're awesome at teaching. You want to get a mentor who is good at feedback. Someone clear, responsive, generous, frank, and in general just a good communicator.
All the intelligence and success in the world won’t make up for someone who can’t say what you need to hear.
Go Inspirational! In the end, get someone who really lights a fire under you.
That doesn’t mean they have to be a public speaker. Some of my best mentors never stepped on a stage.
But how they work, how they face challenges, the guidance they give - it should always point you in a positive direction. It should fill you with a sense of possibility! If they don’t spark you with an eagerness to get to work, they’re probably not your mentor.
So now, let’s talk about the part of this you really control the most. YOU. It takes two to tango, buddy! And if mentorship is a relationship - we need to do our part too.
So before you approach anyone - let’s consider where you’re coming from and what you need. You also need to consider what you’re willing to bring to the table. A thorough inventory of your motivations and priorities are what’s called for now.
Have a Specific Goal or Two. This is not a skippable step.
Sit down and ask yourself, “What do I hope to gain from this relationship?” Is it industry-specific knowledge, how to manage up and down, job design, networking, emotional intelligence in the workplace? Where are your gaps?
If you zero in on 2 or 3 priorities it will help you narrow your search and make the ask less overwhelming for you both.
Offer Concrete Value. It’s really tempting to think of mentorship in terms of “getting something for nothing." But that’s not us…right?
Think of what’s in it for them too. Approach the relationship with a sense of generosity and gratitude. Make it clear that you’re eager to help.
Down the line that could mean offering to facilitate an introduction, helping out with a task that’s hard to hire for, or giving feedback on a public-facing campaign. It depends on where your expertise lies. Just be sure they know you’re ready to contribute too.
Be Teachable - You know what’s more obnoxious than a know-it-all? A know-it-all who asked for your feedback in the first place!
Don’t do that. Don’t go to a mentor asking for guidance, then ignore every bit of wisdom they pass on. Take the advice, use it, test it, reflect on it, and tell them how much it meant. Show them how it fit - or didn’t - into your work and life.
If you don’t try on the advice they offer…what’s the point?
Ask Thoughtful Questions - Don’t lean on your mentor for the “lesson plan.”
You need to ask questions, good questions. Your questions are going to help your mentor see what you need. Questions ignite your conversation and reveal your points of interest. Most of all, they show your mentor that you take their time seriously.
Ultimately, these are the bricks that build the mentorship. It’s up to you - YOU - to create the framework of the relationship. Put in the time, before you ask for some of theirs.
So, yeah. This is on you. Do the prep. Then make the ask. But definitely - make the ask. Be proactive about creating a good relationship.
Because here’s the punchline. Despite what I said, you’re going to have mentors…no matter what.
You’ll either get them intentionally - according to your values and goals. Or…you’ll get stuck with whoever shows up at the cubicle next to yours. Both have an impact.
It’s up to you which way you want to go.
You know that old saying about being the sum total of your 5 closest friends. I would say you’re the sum total of your intentions and actions. So be deliberate. Think. Consider. Ask. Appreciate.
Mentors and meaningful work correlate. So make your work mean something awesome. Connect with the right mentor. Be the right mentee. Then go out and build something that matters to you and the world.
Think I could be the one for you? Book a call and let’s see if we’re on the same path.
SAP, Why Mentors Matter: A Summary of 30 Years of Research, By Lauren Bidwell
How to Find A Mentor (And Make the Most of the Relationship), By Jordan Harbinger