Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several conversations with friends who are considering looking for a mentor to help them grow their leadership. This post is a few thoughts that I usually share with people who are beginning that process. For what it’s worth, this isn’t really original…it’s stuff that I’ve learned from my mentors that I’m happy to pass on to others who might be searching for a mentor of their own.
If you’re looking for a mentor, or even just beginning to consider it, the following is a list of five things that you absolutely can’t afford not to do as you get the process rolling. If you consider these things, you’re setting yourself up to get maximum value out of your mentoring relationships:
1. Realize that you DO need a mentor.
This isn’t the most difficult step, but it is the most important. If you put leadership (or whatever else) on a scale of 1-10, there is no such thing as a “10.” We all have room to grow and get better at what we do. One of the best decisions a leader can make is to invite someone else into the process to invest in them.
The struggle for many leaders is swallowing enough pride to admit that you need other people to help you achieve your goals. But for those who are driven and hungry enough to commit to doing whatever it takes to grow, I would argue that finding a mentor is the single most life-changing step you can take.
2. Know that experience trumps age.
Conventional wisdom says that a mentor should be “older and wiser.” But if it’s true that wisdom comes with life experience, age isn’t a prerequisite. You can be 80 years old and have little to no life experience if all you do is sort of drift by and exist. What’s most important when finding a mentor is to identify someone who has done what you want to do and learn everything you can from them.
They don’t even have to be great at everything. You want to lead better meetings? You don’t need the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to mentor you. Find someone who leads great meetings and ask them to mentor you in that. Whatever it is you want to grow in, whatever it is you want to know, whatever it is you want to do better, find someone who can help you reach the next level in that thing.
It’s not about age at all…it’s about experience and their willingness to let you learn from their successes and mistakes.
3. Commit to the process.
This is huge. HUGE. If you’re going to pursue a mentor, first you have to commit to the process of being mentored. Know your goals…can what you want to accomplish happen in a month? Six months? A year? Five years? Maybe this is even a life-long mentoring relationship you’re looking for. Whatever it is, it’s all useless if you don’t follow through. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
First, respect the time of the person you’re asking to mentor you. Don’t bail on them, don’t skip out on things they ask you to do, etc.
Second, prepare for your conversations. Don’t limp into time with your mentor without a plan. I mentored a guy for several months who would bring a list of questions he wanted to ask to every single meeting. That made an impression on me and changed how I approach leaders I want to learn from. Do your homework and come in with a plan and purpose.
Third, simply follow through…be willing to do the hard work of putting what you learn into practice. If you don’t, you’re wasting your mentor’s time and your own, and most importantly, you’ve missed a great opportunity to raise your own leadership ceiling.
4. Make an intentional ask.
Once you’ve identified the person that you’d like to have as a mentor, you’ve got to make the ask. When you do, be clear and intentional. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t drop hints hoping they’ll offer (they won’t). Don’t make a passive-agressive attempt at it. A weak, half-hearted ask will more than likely be answered with a “no”.
DO explain your goals, explain why you feel they would be a valuable voice that could speak into your life to help you achieve your goals, and then just ask them to mentor you. Put it right out there. If you have a timeframe in mind, share that up front. Let them get the full picture of what it is you’re asking of them.
If they see that there is a goal, a plan, and a purpose behind your ask, you’re likely to get a “yes.” At the very least, they may be willing to help connect you to someone that could invest in you. But you’ll never know if you don’t go for it.
5. Give them permission.
This is the most difficult step. Once you’ve identified your potential mentor, made the ask, and received confirmation, you’ve got to actually grant them permission to speak into your life. I’ll admit that I’m embarrassed by the number of times I’ve approached someone for help or advice and then in the moment I wasn’t teachable. I didn’t posture myself to learn.
I’ve been on the other side of that as well. I’ve been asked to mentor a few different people who didn’t really want a mentor as much as they wanted someone to affirm that they were already doing everything right.
If mentoring is going to work and be worth it, you have to be totally honest and transparent with your mentor. You have to let them see your weaknesses and not attempt to hide them behind your strengths. And you have to allow them the right to have difficult, even uncomfortable conversations about the areas you need to address or grow in.
For this reason, even more important than age or experience, your mentor has to be someone you respect and can trust.
FINAL THOUGHT: If you didn’t pick up on it already, this process begins and ends with humility. You have to humbly admit to yourself that you need a mentor, and you have to humbly give them the right and the platform to speak hard truth into your life. Humility is a deal-maker or deal-breaker when it comes to mentoring relationships.
Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” I believe it’s not just that proud people fall…it’s not automatic. When proud people fall, it’s because they didn’t see the need to invite the wisdom and experience of others who have previously fallen to help guide them away from “destruction.”
I urge any leader to have a mentor. If you do, you already know the value and significance of that relationship. If you don’t, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to make finding one your top priority. A good mentor is a game-changer that will help you raise your leadership ceiling to higher levels than ever before!