So you want to be mentored?
In search of self improvement or a desire to move forward professionally, you have landed on the idea that you need a mentor. Wanting a mentor is easier than the process of being mentored. Here are key ingredients for being mentored and developing in leadership.
Go look for a mentor. It sounds too absurd, but it is all too true that most people want a mentor to come looking for them. ANY individual that you would want to have as a mentor is not just sitting around bored. They have things going on and lots of people who want their time — that is in fact the reason that you want them! They know something that you don’t about your job, about life or about how to lead their families. If you want some of their time, go ask for it. Don’t sit in your office crying about the fact that no one will invest in you. No one will invest in you because you haven’t asked them to.
Make the relationship a priority, not a leftover. Since this is more than likely something you are doing outside of the scope of your paying job, there might be a tendency to treat this like a personal friendship or a hobby — don’t do that. Treat this like a meeting with your boss who’s opinions should have significant impact on your reality. For starters, Show up ON TIME or EARLY! If you are unavoidably running behind, at least call. Next, get the appt. on your calendar as a ‘can’t miss’item; do not treat it as something that you will wipe out if some other meetings come up. Pay attention, this is your personal & professional development we are talking about, don’t let this become a third tier item. Also, bring at least one discussion item to the table each time for them to weigh in on. Don’t expect your mentor to lead every conversation; bounce stuff off of them that is important to your situation.
Don’t play games with reality. You aren’t ready to be mentored if you aren’t ready to be honest; about yourself, your situation, your work ethic, your morals, your finances, your family, your priorities, your ambitions —- ALL of it. There is no bigger waste of time on this earth than to trying to mentor a person who is blowing smoke about who they really are. Don’ bother meeting if you can’t be truthful about your reality. Mentors aren’t afraid of your reality, in fact they embrace it. Helping you move forward is why they are there.
Be ready for some pain. Once you have been honest, brace yourself for to hear things that no one else is telling you. Your gut reaction will be that “this guy is wrong and/or mean”. Not so. What is going to take place when you have found a good mentor are a series of questions, reality checks, performance penatrating observations and soul searches. After that, they will also tell you the truth in a way that likely no one has before. You want them to do this… trust me. If they didn’t do this you wouldn’t need them. If others were doing this, you wouldn’t need a mentor. Don’t shy away from what they need you to hear. Don’t flinch. Don’t whine about it to others. Take it. Think on it. Watch to see if what they tell you isn’t truer than you first thought.
Practice the advice you are given. Nothing up to this point matters if you don’t TRY THE PRACTICAL ADVICE that this person gives you. You might as well go talk to a therapist if you just need someone to talk to and are interested in hearing back some reflections. In fact, I will go so far as to say that you don’t need to meet a second time until you have practiced and tried some of the practical advice from your first meeting with them. Here is a test of whether you have found a good mentor = they will give you some pratical things that you can implement into your life. Nice people are great, but far too many people operate in the land of ideas. You want someone who will practically help shape your life in the most important areas. When you find this person and the challenge you to do something, for goodness sake and the sake of their sanity, DO IT!
Invite feedback. You can practice this without mentors + this is a sure fire way to get what you really need to hear. Don’t just simple ask, “how am I doing?” but ask more detailed questions about specific performance related areas of your life. Let trusted people know that you want to grow, how your trying to grow, that their critique is welcome, and then don’t get defensive when it comes. For your mentor, invite them to ask follow up questions about the advice that they have given you (hopefully you have earnestly put it into action). Ask them follow up questions that get you more specific data on the areas where you know you need to grow. But, DON’T, DON’T, DON’T get defensive! You don’t need to win a mentor over because they are already on your side. So, when the feedback comes, listen, take notes, and then go at it again.
Pay for lunch, but nothing else. Professional coaches are helpful, but they’re also motivated by the money that you are sending their way. You know you have found your mentor (we will look at “qualities of a mentor” at some other time) when they are motivated by helping you grow – period. However, practice the old axiom, who ever has the agenda for the meeting ought to be the one buying the breakfast, coffee or lunch – so in this case, that means YOU!