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The Importance Of Having A Mentor

A COACH/MENTOR—YOU NEED ONE. John C. Maxwell, author and leadership expert, in his book, The 360 - Degree Leader references an informal poll he took at his conferences to find out how people came to be leaders: he asked if they became leaders (a) because they were given a position; (b) because there was a crisis in the organization; or (c) because they had been mentored. More than 80 percent indicated that they were leaders because someone had mentored them in leadership and taken them through the process. For his book Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed over 91 of the most creative people in the world (including 14 Nobel prize winners.) What did they have in common? By the time they were college age, almost every one of those earth-shakers had an important mentor. That is what the most successful people in the world all share. Mentors generally offer three things.1) They give career guidance.2) Mentors provide much needed emotional support when times get tough.3) Mentors also often act like a role model, giving you something to emulate and aspire to. Mentors outside your company are generally best for you. You need objective counsel about your conflicts, opportunities, and perspectives. Someone who has nothing to gain or lose by what they share with you is most likely to benefit you most. Kelli Richards shares that, beyond those gifts, a really good mentor can give you experience beyond your years. Young leaders often think they've cornered the market on innovative thinking. No one has ever quite seen it the way they do. However, people don’t become truly great on their own. A seasoned mentor can challenge you to think in ways that never occurred to you because they've been innovating and solving problems for a much longer time. They won't have all the answers, but if you allow mentors to bolster your experience with theirs, you'll be able to operate much more shrewdly and with more confidence than you otherwise would on your own. Great mentors can also supply networks beyond your experience. Of course, in business, it's important to know the right people. You might be a networking genius, but if you've only been at it for a few years, you're still limited by that time frame. A seasoned mentor, on the other hand, will have connections and a good reputation built up over years. He or she can see connections between people that you never could, at least in the early stages. Most importantly, though, a good mentor will have strong relationships with people who are already successful business leaders--and can help you make the most of their hard-won networks. If you only network within your own circle of colleagues from your generation, you won't have access to the business leaders currently making big decisions that affect your industry. A network across generations is most important. Your mentor can also provide insight beyond your knowledge: Often, a single, sound piece of advice from a mentor can be the catalyst that changes a leader’s frame of reference forever. One "Aha!" moment can propel you forward faster than a year of steady work, or prevent you from making a costly mistake. Friends and peers may share their intuitions or perceptions with you, but when you respect the experience and wisdom of a mentor, you're more likely to accept and value his or her insights--as well as apply them faster and more effectively with greater results.Often younger people resist the mentoring of an older leader because they aren’t so tech-savvy, or seem a bit behind the times. Kelli challenges this idea: “While more seasoned mentors may be viewed as being behind the times for not carrying iPhones and other hot gadgets, their experience outweighs this notion. Young entrepreneurs sometimes hide behind their technological devices and use quick text exchanges to correspond with people. Experienced mentors can share the intangible nuances of communication they have mastered through relationships they've forged the old fashioned way with rookie business leaders. One of the biggest obstacles to finding and cultivating a good mentor relationship is the entrepreneur's own pride (and yes, sometimes arrogance). We're wired to blaze our own trails, so it's sometimes difficult to be humble enough to slow down, get a fresh perspective, and hear things we don't want to hear.” So, how do you get a mentor? There are many specifics to consider, if you are looking for a spiritual mentor, relationship mentor, or career mentor. Generally, these are some of the best general tips, many of them offered by Karen Burns in The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use.

  • Be clear on why you want a mentor. Are you looking for someone to offer specific advice? Do you want a conduit to your industry’s movers and shakers? Or do you just need a sounding board?

  • Define your personality and communication style. What kind of mentor would best complement you? You may choose someone who’s your opposite (an extrovert to your introvert, for example), or someone in whom you see yourself (and vice versa).

  • When asking someone to be your mentor, explain why you’re asking and what you’d expect out of the relationship. Name your reasons for approaching this particular person. Don’t be afraid to be complimentary. ( “I’m asking you because you are the most successful person I know”).

  • A mentor is a powerful role model. Look for someone who has the kind of life and work you’d like to have. Choose a mentor you truly respect. Don’t just go for the biggest name you can find.

  • Before asking someone to be your mentor, consider first simply asking for input on a single specific topic. How did that go? Was it good advice? Was it delivered in a way that made sense to you, and filled you with confidence and energy?

  • Look for ways you can reciprocate. At the very least, you can occasionally spring for lunch or, say, send a fruit basket or a gift card. You don’t want to be all take-take-take.

  • Show gratitude. Never let your mentor feel taken for granted. Also, supply feedback. If your mentor suggested something that really worked out for you, report back. People love hearing about their part in a success story.

  • When looking for a mentor, think beyond former bosses and professors. Look to older family members or friends, neighbors, spiritual leaders, community leaders, the networks of your friends and colleagues, or officials of professional or trade associations you belong to. Avoid asking your direct supervisor at work. You want to be free to discuss workplace issues as well as your plans for future advancement.

  • Keep in mind that mentoring can take many forms. It can be a monthly lunch, a quarterly phone call, a weekly handball game, or merely a steady E-mail correspondence. Your mentor does not even have to live in your city or region.

  • Many mentors derive pleasure from “molding” someone in their own images—great for them and great for you if you want to be molded. But beware of mentors who are too bossy, controlling, or judgmental. This is your path, not theirs.

  • Don’t become dependent on your mentor. The idea is that one day you will eventually be able to fly on your own. In fact, you may not take every bit of advice your mentor offers. Continue to think for yourself.

  • You may benefit from more than one mentor. In fact, you can have a whole committee if you want, and call it your Board of Directors. Choose different mentors for different facets of your professional (and even personal) life.

If you ask someone to be your mentor and that person refuses, don’t be hurt or offended. This is not personal. Potential good mentors are very busy people. Thank him or her for the consideration, and ask for a suggestion of someone who perhaps could do it.Keep in mind, there is no magic formula or secret process for choosing a mentor. Often mentors appear in the least likely places and circumstances. However, not everyone wants to be a mentor. Also, experience, position, and responsibilities don’t automatically qualify a person to be a mentor. Even in You should shop around to find a mentor you like, is easy to talk with, and will give you good honest advice. You need someone who, with truth and grace, can help you grow.

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