A recent study conducted by OnePoll found that of 2000 Americans surveyed, 74% say they have a mentor. For those who do, the average person has four. “Dad” tops out the list as most common with “mom” coming in a close second. Many people will not find this surprising. After all, it’s understandable that most people would look up to their parents. But what about mentors outside of family? In truth, it’s those you meet in business and the community who have the greatest influence on your decision making and, in turn, your life outcomes.
When I’ve interviewed leaders over the years, I’ve always listened for who they turn to for guidance and insights. Sometimes these people drop into our lives serendipitously such as a boss, team member, colleague or neighbor. But being proactive in seeking out mentors accelerates the process. That’s not to say you should walk up to someone you admire and say, “Hi, I’d like you to mentor me.” The mentoring relationship requires vetting on both sides. Most evolve over time, based on the development of mutual trust and admiration.
We can also outgrow mentors. It may be a difference in values. You may become separated geographically. You might find yourself limited in access. Over time, you may discover that the mentor’s vision is ultimately more limited than yours. When I worked as a stockbroker years ago, Jack, the vice president of our branch said to me, “If you want to make $100,000 per year, find someone who does so and get them to teach you. But if you want to make $200,000 per year, you’ll have to find someone else who does that, because the $100,000 person doesn’t have the vision and skills to do so. From my experience, his advice has been remarkably prescient.
So, what’s the bottom line to all this? First, resolve to define the kind of mentoring you need. Is it personal? Is it professional? Is it about your career? Is it about developing relationships? Is it about growing personal influence? You get the idea.
Second, begin a list of those with whom you have contact who might be able to provide the insights and support you are seeking. Be broad-minded. Mentors sometimes come from unusual places. Someone on your softball team may the person to seek out about honing your leadership skills. You may find someone where you work who can provide guidance about a personal challenge you’re facing.
Third, develop a list of the characteristics you seek in a mentor. This is not a checklist to be shared, but more of a compilation of qualities you would like to see in someone from whom you can learn. There’s no need to grill people. Just get to know the individuals you have in mind and see where the conversation takes you. Chances are, you’ll discover whether the relationship has the potential for mentoring.
Finally, consider what might you be able to offer the mentor in return. Understandably, this should not be viewed as a quid pro quo. But it always helps to keep the other person in mind. You may find that the mentor is simply seeking ways to give back after years of benefiting from relationships from others.
I’ve had a number of mentors over the years and continue to seek out new ones. Some are more fruitful than others. The only way to know is to reach out and develop relationships with those you admire.