Finding a mentor is a three step process:
- Know Yourself
- Pick Candidates
- Negotiate a Relationship
When you seek a mentor, it should be for a reason. Wanting to find someone who will “just make all the things better” is seeking a therapist, not a mentor. A mentor is someone who has experience in a specific area of your life and can share information, encouragement, and insight so that you can better that part of your life. Determine which areas of your life you are seeking to improve before you seek a mentor.
Mentors must be people you can reach. If you seek to have the President of the United States as your mentor, you will very likely not succeed. The reason is simple – you simply cannot reach him. Start with a pool of experienced individuals in your field of improvement who are also people that you can reach.
Mentors must also be committed to your success. It’s not uncommon for someone to ask a cousin to help improve his basketball game, only to find that the cousin just wants to dunk on him all the time. That’s not a mentor, that’s a sparring partner. Being committed to your success means that the person in question will gain personal emotional reward from seeing you accomplish your goal. This can either be in the personal level (like a parent) or in the impersonal level (like a national-level sports coach). In both cases, you want someone who will have a “selfish” motivation that you succeed.
Parents, teachers, pastors (if you are religious), experts in a field, elders, professional coaches (sports, business, life, etc.) are all candidate pools for mentors. Write down the names of ALL the experts around you, regardless of age, then sort them from best to worst. Call the top 10.
Negotiate a Relationship
It’s always a compliment to be asked to mentor a person. It’s also a burden and commitment. If you are seriously asking someone to mentor you, then you need to be sure that you are both serious about making you better in the area that matters. That means that not only should you be committed to showing up on time, respecting the mentor’s time and personal life, but you need to know that the mentor will also be committed to be present at the designated time, be capable of listening and paying attention, and be willing to stick around until you both agree that the situation is better. It’s a negotiation, and by treating it as such, you express a respect to the mentor and to yourself.
A Few Final Notes
- Set ground rules for time management. Mentorship isn’t a free license to just call this person any time of the day with whatever ails you.
- Set a window of contact time that is regular. It doesn’t have to be “every Tuesday at 5pm” (though that is also acceptable if you both agree), but it should be at least “one hour every week” or some such commitment. Leaving it open will lead to fade away. Remember, the mentor’s time is the driver here, he or she is doing you a favor.
- If the mentor is a paid individual, expect more work from the mentor – and say so up front. A great way of phrasing it is, “I have had coaches in the past who just made it up as we go along, so I’m wondering what your plan looks like and how much feedback you’ll give me outside of the training session?” Homework, assessments, written materials are reasonable to expect from paid mentors.
- Don’t be afraid to “fire” a mentor at any time if you find that he or she is not working. ALWAYS be polite and grateful, even if they were horrendous. Why? Because this is a person who gave you some of their time. But ultimately, the driver is your success, not theirs – so if it isn’t working because the hat doesn’t fit, just get another hat — it’s not about whether they’re a good person, it’s about whether it works.
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