In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, mentors extend our vision, enable us to attain greater heights. Mentors provide counsel and expand our resourcefulness.
The word itself is inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey. The goddess Athena takes on his appearance in order to guide Odysseus’ son Telemachus in his time of difficulty.
In the famed Hero Journey works of Joseph Campbell, the hero always requires a mentor to give him the push onto the path of adventure. We cannot have self-belief until we have seen another believe in us. My earliest mentor was Mr Matz, a biology teacher. I was 14. He believed in me and my potential in a way no adult ever had before. (Read The best teacher I had in school for more Mr Matz)
Every challenge you face was once faced by someone older. Every life choice has been lived by someone older. We have the choice to accelerate our growth by bringing mentors into our life.
How important is it for you to find a mentor? I recall an entrepreneurship lesson from Brad Feld: “Rule #1 for business: Get a mentor. Love your mentor. Embrace your mentor. Stay close to your mentor. Listen. Ask questions.”
There are 3 Types of Mentors
Gandalf, Obi-wan, Dumbledore… mentors come in 3 types:
- Sponsor – The Sponsor Mentor puts their personal reputation on the line and takes responsibility for your personal success. Protege means “one who is protected”. The protege is expected to work hard to make the sponsor look good. This mentor must be senior and influential, This mentor must be willing to make a stand for their protege.
- Guide – The Guide Mentor asks “so, what’s your next step?” and helps you to learn to trust your own decisions. I personally have learnt to trust in my own decision making processes in people decisions (hiring, firing, recruiting) from my mentors.
- Coach – The Coach Mentor puts a focus on your performance improvement. This mentor helps you set clear goals, and asks good questions to widen your perspective; seniority is not necessary.
How do Mentors work together with you?
The 5 most commonly used techniques among mentors are:
- Companion: supporting in a caring way, standing side-by-side with you.
- Plant Seeds: preparing you for a future change, pushing you to gather resources for an upcoming project.
- Catalyst: Here the mentor gives you a push… they might ask for a personal commitment, force you to close a chapter in your life, provoke a different perspective, or suggest a re-ordering of values.
- Demonstrator: using their own experience and example to demonstrate a skill or activity.
- Mirror: Provoke reflection. Here the mentor asks questions: “What have you learned?”, “How useful is it?”.
How do I find Mentors?
Route #1 not to find a mentor? Write an email to a stranger asking them to be your mentor. Do not start with strangers.
First, get yourself ready
You cannot find a mentor until you have an explicit vision for what you want to achieve. (Read How I set goals) In my teaching, when we work on Vision, I ask participants to define goals in 6 areas of their life: health, peace of mind, relationships, money, contribution and spirituality. What type of life are you working to create in these 6 areas?
Be great at what you do – this is the most important thing you can do to get noticed. (Read The 6 key characteristics of A-players) Promote the success of others – your generosity and openness are critical to your success, and will be remembered.
Second, learn to ask great questions… and to listen
Rob Whittaker, a Vistage Chair from the UK taught me that there are 4 levels of questions when you are learning from the experience of a mentor:
- Fact – What was your first leadership role?
- Opinion – What were the best and worst aspects of the role?
- Impact – What impact did those experiences have on you today?
- Change – If you could go back, is there anything you would have done differently?
You can find many great resources to help you improve your questions. Two great places to start are the books Humble Inquiry by Eduard Schien and Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute.
Third, start with those you already know
Who inspires you? Make a list of people that inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Who has achieved something you would value achieving in each of the 6 Vision areas? Write the names down.
Join organisations that focus on your growth as a leader. If you are an Entrepreneur, join Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. If you are a CEO, join Vistage. If you are a president, join Young Presidents’ Organisation. Find a local Toastmasters chapter. Join Rotary International.
Fourth, build relationships
Are you somebody you yourself would like to mentor? Are you open, flexible, resilient, respectful? Are you eager to learn, and committed to modifying how you’re interacting in the world?
Don’t immediately ask for mentorship. Follow their work, and be helpful and supportive. Tweet out their posts, comment in a positive way on their blogs, share their updates. Bring them a project that will make them look good. Show you are able to be of service to them, and go out and do it.
Fifth, pay it back
Jim Collins says that the best way to pay back our mentors is to become a mentor for the next generation. I have 2 questions for you: What positive thing have you said about someone to their face today? What positive thing have you said about someone who isn’t in the room? If I were your Mentor, I would ask you these 5 questions:
- What is it that you really want to be and do?
- What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
- What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
- What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
- Where do you need the most help? (Who can help you?)
Who will you ask one of these questions today?
About Conor Neill
Conor Neill is the President of Vistage, Spain and a Professor at IESE Business School. His mission is to improve the effectiveness and enhance the lives of CEOs and key executives.