What to look for in a mentor
Mentors Matter: How To Identify An Excellent Mentor
Jul 10, 2019, 08:30am
by Terry Powell
Terry Powell is the Visionary Founder of The Entrepreneur’s Source®, North America’s leading alternative career coaching franchise.
Let’s assume that we all agree that mentorship is a good thing. In the workplace (paywall), mentorship is considered extremely valuable, particularly for young adults just starting out, to get ahead. But established CEOs and high-level executives often also have — and benefit from — mentors. Even legendary investor Warren Buffett has talked about the benefits of mentorship and how investor and economist Benjamin Graham was his.
So, mentors matter — but obviously you want the right one. Having the wrong mentor will just waste everybody’s time and send you along the wrong path. If you’re looking for a mentor, you’ll want to consider a few things.
Mentors coach; they don’t play the game for you. The best mentors are a little like coaches, or teachers, or even therapists. In other words, they won’t give you answers or directions. They will, however, guide you and help you figure out the answers you’re seeking. They self-direct you to your discoveries.
It’s very important that you have a mentor who shows you the way rather than tells you the path you should take. Think of it this way. This is a variation of the “teach a man to fish” wisdom we often hear, but would you want to hire a mentor who tells you how to swim and gives you detailed instructions — but never gets in the water with you? Or would you rather someone show you how to swim — you know, actually teach you?
If you tell somebody how to swim, chances are, once you leave, they aren’t going to do very well. In fact, they may well drown. But if you actually work with the person and teach them how to swim, whether you’re around or not, they’re likely going to do very well in the water from here on out.
You want a mentor. You want a coach. You want somebody who is going to teach you, not tell you, how to swim.
You want a mentor who listens to you. That sounds obvious, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed and you do want to be told what to do, you may not notice if a mentor doesn’t seem to be actually engaging with you. That’s another reason you want a mentor to help you help yourself. A mentor can’t really assist or coach you if you haven’t explained to them what you’re trying to do and why you think things aren’t working so far.
In other words, if you meet a mentor who thinks that they know it all without listening to what you’re saying, you have a problem. Your mentor may have a one-size-fits-all agenda or simply isn’t very good at their job. And mentors should be listening. For starters, they can’t understand what you need if they aren’t engaged. Plus, a good mentor will typically learn a lot from the mentee. Good mentors are interested in the people they’re helping and recognize that mentees aren’t blank slates with nothing to offer. We’re all on this crazy journey we call life. The mentor has (hopefully) simply been on this journey a little longer — or has been on a different pathway than the mentee, a pathway the mentee presumably wants to take. Which leads me to my next point.
Experience is important. You don’t want to be steered in a bad direction or to come to decisions that don’t work for you. In an age where just about anyone with a website and bank account can say that they’re, say, a life coach, open for business, you really do need to do your due diligence and research the person and make sure that they really do have the type of background that you believe would make them a good mentor.
I’m not talking about having experience in coaching. Sure, that’s nice, but you might be the first client ever and work with an excellent mentor. I’m talking about a mentor needing true experience in the direction you want to take. A good mentor will possess the tools and background to help you sift through your possibilities and the pathways you could take, and those you shouldn’t take, in order to reach your goal. Your mentor has a map and knows how to read it. Otherwise, what’s the point of working with this person? As I said, you’re both going to learn something from the mentor and mentee relationship. However, if you’re working with somebody who doesn’t have what it takes to help you reach a point of clarity, it doesn’t make sense to continue the relationship.
As Warren Buffet said, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” Make sure your mentor is consistently adding value and challenging you to become a better version of yourself at all times.