A few months ago I wrote a contrarian post on choosing your associated based on finances. If you recall from that post I just do not do it. One possible exception to this came up in the comments. That is the concept of a mentor. The original post was not written in the context of a mentor, but in today’s post I will speak to Why you Should have a Mentor.
What is a Mentor?
A mentor, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a “trusted counselor or Guide” Basically it is someone whom can advise you on a path forward in your career, finances, or life. By it’s very nature this means you need someone who is knowledgable about your path forward. That being said that does not necessarily mean a mentor is your friend. In some cases there is even a school of thought that you are better off with a mentor that is not your friend. The dictionary even throws out a quote by P.W. Keve about a mentor being “detached and disinterested”. The idea being that if your too close of a friend with your mentor it may cloud or disrupt when you really need a tough love representation of the truth. I will not take a position that a mentor cannot be a friend, it just does not have to be. This is why I did not focus on mentors in my last post. Which brings us to a question?
What are Qualities of a Good Mentor?
If the point of having a mentor is to receive trusted knowledge that can aid your course forward, then there are definitely some qualities you should seek out in a mentor. Let me start by saying this is not a black and white list. No one item disqualifies a mentor. In fact to take it a step further I actually recommend having multiple mentors. The difference in perspective on certain qualities can help your trajectory. Anyway on to those Qualities:
- Trusted. A mentor needs to be someone you can tell concerns or issues to without blow back. What good would a career coach do you if you asked them a question about, say, salary negotiation only for them to blab to your boss. You need someone you can trust to give you the right answer and keep what you ask them in confidence.
- Willing to Share Advice. If they will not share their advice and experiences, then it goes without saying the relationship will not be beneficial as a mentorship.
- Ideally years ahead of you in a role or position you wish to pursue. Your newly minted peers are likely struggling with the same issues you are. You really need someone where you want to go rather than where you are. Someone who has solved the issues you are dealing with. Someone whom is respected in the role they are in as a leader and expert.
- In addition to position on the life curve you also need someone on the same life track. I have a fantastic father in law who can occasionally provide advice on a lot of things. But as a college professor his corporate world advice carries less weight than the guy I hired 2 years ago. Pick people who are where you want to be and can provide relatable advice for the best bang for your buck.
- Someone who will tell you like it is. Moms and Dads are often terrible mentors. Why? It’s very hard to tell someone you love that they suck at what they do and they need to change their approach. This comes back to the conversation we had about friends. If the person can not tell you to your face your pursuing the wrong approach, then they will be a poor mentor. They should be constructive while doing it of course, but every so often we need that water thrown on our plans to bring us back to reality. Its better a mentor do this then a boss.
- Manager as a Mentor. Now note, a good manager will also be a type of mentor helping you along. That being said there are many things you just should not talk to your boss about. So your boss should never be your only mentor.
- Available. This sounds like common sense but I have to tell you that I have run into it more than once in the corporate world. I approach an executive asking for mentorship. I get an affirmative but then its impossible to get on their calendar. Mentorship takes time and not everyone is prepared to give it.
- Passionate about Mentoring. They need to want to help you as much as you want to learn. Otherwise the mentorship will wane over time. Who wants to work with someone who does not want to help them?
- Asks you about your Goals and Values. Like a good financial advisor the first question your mentor should be asking you are regarding your goals and values. Every person has different objectives in life. It is your mentors job to understand yours and advise you towards achieving them. If they do not take the time to understand those goals and values, then they will not serve you well as a mentor.
How to Get a Mentor
This one is fairly simple. Approach someone who fits the above criteria and ask. I have been at companies that assigned mentors but my experience was that failed miserably. It ended up feeling like a chore to both parties and the mentor relationship quickly fell apart. Or alternately it was just going through the motions. I would recommend regardless of your company policy you approach and get your own mentor. This would be true even if it is in addition to the company appointed mentor.
Mentor, not just for Work
I have focused much of my comments above on a career mentor, but to be honest a mentor can be useful for all aspects of life. For a new hobby a mentor can help you learn the ins and outs. For finances a financial advisor, or better and cheaper, someone you know whom is financially successful, would be a good mentor. Even for parenting, which is where my aforementioned father in law comes in. The reality is, there are no new problems in the world. There is always someone who has been there before and experienced the issue. The key is wherever possible to learn from them so you do not repeat their mistakes.
Do you have mentors? For what aspects of your life? Any advice on qualities or criteria I missed?