AS I LOOK BACK OVER MY BUSINESS CAREER, I WOULD not have accomplished anywhere close to what I have had not been for several key mentors. The first was Roger Strickland, a professor at Santa Fe College, who helped me understand how to be successful in the classroom and has since become one of my closest friends. The next was Charlie Owen – my mentor when I was a young CEO running one of the Rockefeller foundations – who helped me understand how to be successful in business. I cannot possibly overstate the impact these two gentlemen had on my life and the lesson they taught me about the importance of having a mentor and being a mentor to others.
How Do You Find A Mentor?
The first step in finding a mentor is to decide what you want to learn and what skills and information you are seeking from your mentor. Once you have clearly identified that, go out in your network and look at the people you really admire who have this skill set. If you can’t find someone you know, ask all your contacts and colleagues if they know anyone who could help you sharpen your skills in the area of your focus.
Once you find someone you believe would be a great mentor, it is critical that, when you approach them, you are fully prepared. What specifically would you like them to help you with? How often would you like to meet? Do you want to meet in person, virtually or a mix of the two? How long do you intend for the mentorship to be, six months, a year, no specific end date? And most importantly, what can you give to your mentor? How can you help them? What can you contribute that would be of value to the person you’re asking to mentor you?
Now, when you ask them to be your mentor, you can show them you have a clear focus on what you want to learn and that you have a desire to help and assist them in any way you are able to. Once all of this is in place, you are ready to approach the person you want to work with and ask them if they would be willing to mentor you. Not everyone will accept your request. It has been my experience that most successful people understand how valuable mentors are and are happy to assist someone who is both respectful and well-prepared.
How To Be A Great Mentee?
The number one most important thing to remember as a mentee is to never waste your mentor’s time. Show up for every meeting fully prepared with a list of questions you want to talk about. If your mentor assigns you reading or some sort of homework, make sure you do it. If your mentor gives you advice about how to handle an issue, take the advice and let them know how it worked out. If you decide that their advice is not appropriate for you, let them know specifically why you chose not to follow their advice. Lastly, find out what is of interest to your mentor, what are they trying to learn and what skills are they focused on gaining. Then do everything you can to find information, ideas and contacts that will assist them in their area of interest.
Typically, mentorships last six months to a year, but some may stretch on for several years or a lifetime. If you have a narrow area of focus you want to work with your mentor on, then it makes sense that once you feel like you’ve gathered as much information on that topic from your mentor – you look to find a new mentor in a different area where you want some help and advice. However, 28 years later, I still look to Roger Strickland as not just a friend, but one of my most valued mentors who helps me to navigate my life and career.
Finally, as you work with your various mentors and grow in your knowledge and skills, I believe it is a good practice to pay it forward and find people you can help by becoming a strong and supportive mentor. I’ve also found that serving as a mentor has helped me be a much better mentee.
Let’s face it, no one can be truly successful without help. The world moves too fast, there is too much information and change to keep up all by yourself, so I believe that seeking out and studying under several caring mentors is vital to achieving great things in your career and life.
JOHN SPENCE has been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success. www.johnspence.com