A Success Coach Tells You How to Get Yourself a Mentor

Finding a good mentor is a key step in hastening your journey towards professional success

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“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
—Steven Spielberg

Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson have something in common—they all had mentors they looked up to and learned from.

In my career as a former banker and now as a coach and trainer, I have had my share of mentoring and being mentored. One of my mentors is a former client of mine, a septuagenarian with very rich and varied experience. Even though I quit the banking sector many moons ago, I have kept in touch with him and visit him regularly to seek advice on work and life.

From a broader perspective, I think humans have survived and evolved to this stage not just because of our intelligence and perseverance but also because of our innate desire to be of help to someone else and to give back what we have earned and learned.

The benefits of having a mentor

Many different studies point to the fact that people who succeed greatly tend to have a great mentor. There are several benefits of having a mentor. Here are three that apply to everyone.

1. Nobody knows it all. We can learn something from someone who has been there and done it. Learning is not just about acquiring skills but also involves gaining perspectives, ideas and wisdom.

2. We are blind to our weaknesses. Because it is difficult to see our own shortcomings, we need another wise soul to point them out to us. A good mentor spots our weak areas and points them out to us so that we can improve upon them.

3. Ratification and encouragement. We need someone seasoned who we can bounce off our ideas to and receive constructive feedback from. We also need someone to encourage us when our chips are down and we are in the mood to give it up.

Before becoming a mentee

Mentors are usually busy people and most of them agree to being one out of their desire to help. In most cases, no money exchanges hands and therefore the benefit drawn by both parties is intangible. Finding and working with the right mentor can make a big difference to your career and life. It is therefore important that you prepare yourself before you begin the process of finding a mentor. Here are a few ways in which you can prepare to becoming a worthy mentee.

  • Know clearly why you need a mentor. Do you need someone to help you solve an immediate problem? Or do you want to learn a specific skill? Perhaps you want someone to guide you in a particular area of your career.
  • Be prepared to introspect. A good mentor is candid and outspoken and would call a spade a spade. You have to be prepared to approach the relationship with an open mind and be ready to face your shortcomings and work on them.
  • Get committed. Your mentor is willing to make time to assist you despite his busy schedule. The least you can do is value the relationship and commit to doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals.

How do you find a great mentor?

Once you are clear about why you need a mentor, you are ready to look for one. A mentor could be someone in your field who you look up to or perhaps, someone senior in your organisation. You could even approach  a friend or a colleague you respect. May be you discover someone via networking. In some cases, a mentor could also be younger to you.

A mentor could be someone in your field who you look up to or perhaps. In some cases, a mentor could also be younger to you

If you are looking for someone to help you solve a specific problem or situation, consider someone who has been there before. If your purpose is to learn a particular skill, your best bet would be people who have excelled in that field. If you are looking for long-term guidance with regard to your career or your life, then you are better off looking for someone older, successful and more experienced than you. The following tips will help when approaching a potential mentor:

  • Do not hesitate. Contrary to what you may think, most successful people are willing to help, if approached correctly.
  • Be clear and specific. A vague discussion is likely to have a dissatisfying outcome with no implementation plan. Explain your objectives and ambition and the type of assistance you require.
  • Be ready for rejection. Your potential mentor may not have the time or see a purpose and may decline your request in the first meeting itself. In such a case, don’t dwell on the rejection and instead accept it and move on. There are others who will grant you your request.
  • Be prepared to withdraw. The person you meet might turn out to be very different from what you imagined her/him to be like. Your values or ideals may not match and you may not find a connection. In such a case, it is best to respectfully withdraw your request and continue your search for another, more aligned mentor.

If you are looking for someone to help you solve a specific problem or situation, consider someone who has been there before

How to get the most from your time with mentor

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind in order to build a fulfilling and lasting relationship with your mentor.

  • Be serious. It is important to be punctual, presentable and attentive. Switch off your phone and other gadgets when you meet your mentor. It also helps to take notes and ask relevant questions. If assignments are given, complete them on time and follow up on your commitments.
  • Make it convenient. Make sure it is you who is doing the travelling and adjusting rather than your mentor. You have to make yourself available even if your mentor asks you to meet him at the jogging track at 6:30 am.
  • Give regular updates. Provide regular feedback and keep your mentor involved in the process. It is, however, not advisable to bother your mentor with frivolous updates or unimportant happenings. The key is to let your mentor know that you are following up on the advice s/he has provided and also if it is working out for you or perhaps you need to tweak or improve your effort.
  • Offer assistance. Your mentor may require help or assistance regarding something she/he is not very well conversant or comfortable with. It is a good practice to offer help or assistance if you are in a position to do so.
  • Express gratitude. Having respect and gratitude for someone is not enough—you must make it known in the right manner. In most cases, this is all your mentor gets in return for her efforts and there is no reason for you to be miserly when expressing it!

Finding a good mentor is the most effective way of quickening your pace of learning and hastening your journey towards professional success. All you need is an open mind, a commitment to applying the wisdom you receive and a grateful heart.

A version of this article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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