Have you ever had a mentor? Have you even been one? Would you even know if you had one? We all have people we go to advice for. Some offer their wisdom even when we don’t ask for it. What does it mean to be a mentor? The purpose of this piece is to deconstruct mentorship. What forms it takes, who uses it, who needs it, and how to make the most of it. The pedestrian response would be to say mentorship is when a more experienced, knowledgeable person guides an understudy, or a protégé in the right direction.
What direction do you want to go? I highly recommend having a mentor, but choosing one should be as thought provoking as choosing a house, or a car. A mentor can only steer you in the direction that they, themselves have traveled. Do you have someone in your life that you always take advice from? Think of that person, what kind of life have they lived? Where are they at financially, emotionally or even spiritually? How a person chooses a mentor says more about that person who is choosing than it says about the mentor they selected.
To begin a mentorship selection, first you have to do a self-evaluation about what direction you want to be going. I do believe a person should be choosy about mentorship, but not good advice. When I first took on a role of leadership, I had an experienced leader give me the best advice I have ever received. He said
“As you work and train with other leaders, you will find very different styles, personalities, and values. Don’t reject good experience or advice from people because you may not see eye to eye with them. Every leader, good or bad, has something positive to contribute. Extrapolate everything you find useful from every leader, and discard what you don’t agree with. Regardless of your opinion of said person, everybody has something positive to contribute.”
This sound advice has resonated with me from the very beginning and it has served me well. I have worked with such a variety of leaders, with such diverse personalities, and very different management styles, I just took advice from everyone. Just like my mentor suggested, I gathered what I found useful, and discarded what I found to be unhelpful. What I have, is an eclectic plethora of sound advice, and a better understanding of how to utilize advice, no matter who is giving it.
“If someone is your teacher for just one day, you should regard that person as your parent for the rest of your life.” –a well-known Chinese proverb
One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to advice, is we tend associate information with how we feel about the person giving it. This fallacy has two sides. On one hand, we ignore what could be useful, valuable, and even information that we want, just because we do not like the person giving us the information. On the other hand we may put too much stock in poor or unhelpful information because we like the person who is giving it to us. The goal to receiving good advice is to dissociate the information from the information-giver, and trust your own abilities of assessing the situation.
That being said, when selecting a mentor, you don’t want make your selection based on how you feel about that person, you want to choose someone who has achieved the goals in life you aspire to achieve yourself. You don’t want to pick someone because you agree with them, or they are a good cheerleader. You want to pick someone who has already accomplished the things you want to accomplish, or At least has gotten further down the path than you have.
Another important step of mentorship selection is self-reflection. Before you make a decision, you want to ask yourself,” How well do I take criticism?” As I mentioned before, you don’t want some cheerleader agreeing with every decision you make. It is important to have a mentor that supports you, but you need someone who will tell you when you are wrong, and you need to be able to take that direction without taking it personal. A coach is a great analogy for a mentor. A coach is someone is invested in your success, and he will tell you what you need to know, but he might not always tell you what you want to hear.
After you have made a mentor selection, and made a commitment to yourself to being mindful of improving, choose one. Just remember, don’t blindly follow all advice, or reject it based on how you feel about the person giving it. Think about where you are, where you want to be, and how you mentor got there.