People bandy the word “mentor” around like it’s some new age philosophy; cleverly reinvented by millennials and people who carry iPhones and drink chocolate vodka.
Mentorship isn’t a new concept. The entire human race has been formed and developed by tribal, societal and familial mentorships. Mom taught you how to ride a bike, Dad showed you how to flip a pancake, and Great Uncle Jim taught you how hilarious it is to put spiders in your sister’s bed.
In the working world, however, you can’t automatically rely on people to put your interests first and hand out sound advice.
Do you need a mentor?
You need many.
Your career path is an individual one – your circumstances are unique. A single wildly successful mentor can give you great advice which would definitely benefit you, but it’s based on their experience, their values and their particular skills and talents. It’s one dimensional.
If you can collect information and advice from a cross-section of people who have all made great decisions, who have all achieved in different ways, then you can tap into a wealth of perception, experience and wisdom.
Think of it as a support team. Perhaps even as your own personal Board of Directors in steering of your career. They can assess your situation and offer an array of solutions founded on solid, real-world experience. Then, based on your value system and your own career choices, you can cherry pick what you know will work best for you.
So what do you need to look for in a mentor?
Probably the trickiest thing about being at the beginning of your career, is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Your frame of reference is limited by your exposure and experience.
So if you need someone to share their wisdom with you, then they need to actually have some wisdom to share. Wisdom doesn’t automatically come with age, but it does come with experience. Wisdom is applied knowledge. (The old adage goes, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”)
Simply put then, you need to find someone who occupies a place that you want to be in your career, and you need to understand why they made the decisions that they did to get there.
A wise and seasoned mentor will challenge you to think in ways that you hadn’t thought of. They have been problem-solving for a long time, and they know that the answers from “the book” won’t always work in the real world.
A good mentor may not have all the answers, but adding their experience and perspective to yours will result in better decision making, accepting different challenges, and may well prevent some poor decisions. They will actively challenge you to leave your comfort zone.
What practical steps can you take?
Once you’ve identified where you are going, and who is there that can assist you – take a long hard look at what gaps exist between you. What skills can you learn and what experience should you expose yourself to in order to bridge that gap? Do you have certain weaknesses that can trip you up, and that may need attention? Can you imitate the way that they communicate with various stakeholders if these are the same people you will be dealing with further down the line?
If you are considering a mentor, then it is wise to identify the difference between mentorship and opinion. Anyone can have an opinion – and as we know, the empty vessel makes the loudest sound.
The Outperformer offers a smart way to filter out empty opinion and get in front of the right people. Experienced, mature, subject matter experts populate Collaborate and our community. We have made it easy to find mentors, qualify them by their expertise, industry knowledge or seniority, and create one-to-one conversations.
There’s a lot to our mentorship hub and we’d be thrilled to run through your options with you. Create your own personal Board of Directors.