77 Mentoring

Brad C. Anderson

This section will look at the benefits of having a mentor and then explore how you can find someone willing to mentor you.

Benefits of a Mentor

The previous section identified that experience is an essential component of developing your wisdom, but experiences vary in their capacity to foster your growth. A good mentor will help you organize your experiences to pull out relevant learning.[1] They will challenge you to reflect on how you perceive the challenges you face, your methods of addressing those problems, the actions you have taken, and the effectiveness of those actions.[2][3]

Another benefit of mentoring is this. We learn from mistakes, but no one said those mistakes have to be our own. A good mentor will share their experience with you, helping you to avoid making the same mistakes they made. 

 

“Zen proverb” by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from the original work

 

All this may sound great, but how does one find a mentor? The next section explores this question.

Finding a Mentor

This section presents a North American business perspective. Consequently, some of the advice may be inapplicable to other industries and cultures. Do your due diligence to learn about the appropriate way to approach mentors in the field and the culture in which you are operating.

Commonly, people feel nervous approaching others to ask for mentoring. Individuals in a position to mentor are often very busy and in positions of authority. It may feel like an imposition to ask them to give some of their valuable time to you.

Though people who have achieved the qualities that would make them a good mentor are often busy, you may be surprised by the number of people willing to help if you approach them with respect and a genuine desire to learn. Many people enjoy the opportunity to share what they have learned with others. The following paragraphs discuss the qualities of a good mentor, how to approach them, and how to maintain the relationship.

A Good Mentor

A good mentor is someone you perceive as wise in an area you wish to develop. If you want to be a wise leader, seek out someone you consider a wise leader. If you hope to be a wise parent, seek out a wise parent, and so on. The person you reach out to for mentoring should be someone with whom you feel comfortable. Ideally, they will have had experience with the types of situations you face.

The criteria that make a mentor ideal for you may change as your vocation progresses. There will come times when you have learned all you can from one individual. Recognize that you may have many mentors throughout your life. Mentoring is not a “one and done” type of endeavour but rather a dynamic, life-long process.

Where to Find Mentors

Where can you find a mentor? There are many places, including but not limited to, the following.

  • Work
  • Your personal and professional network
  • Mentorship programs
  • Industry events
  • Business associations
  • Conferences
  • Volunteering
  • Social media

Approaching a Potential Mentor

Avoid asking, “Would you please be my mentor?” Be cool about it. Instead, reach out to them and ask if they have time for a short meeting (say, fifteen minutes), or if you could treat them to a quick coffee to discuss some questions you had about your career (or whatever topic on which you want mentoring). They may say no–people are busy, after all. If this is the case, thank them and move on with your search. If they agree, prepare for the meeting.

Preparing For Your Meeting

You will build a much stronger relationship with a mentor if you respect their time. Be organized. Consider ahead what your questions are. Your time with them may be brief, so have an idea of what insight you want to gain from that time and make a plan to get that insight.

What types of questions might you ask? Well, ask about whatever you would like insight on that is relevant to their experience. For example:

  • Career planning: What expertise and training do you need for the career you want?
  • Career insights: What does it take to be successful in this career?
  • Advice: Share with them the challenges you are experiencing, how you are tackling them, and then ask whether they have any helpful ideas.
  • And so on.

When meeting with them, present yourself in a manner that is respectful and appropriate for the circumstances. Wearing formal business attire may be necessary if you meet with a high-powered banking executive but out of place if your appointment is with an artist.

During The Meeting And Beyond

Be respectful of their time. If you asked for fifteen minutes, then let them know when you reach the fifteen-minute mark. If they are willing to speak longer, great. Otherwise, thank them and be on your way.

Be friendly and interested in them. Ask your questions. Have a discussion. Consider how you will remember any tidbits of good advice you receive. Will you take notes during the meeting? Write things down afterward?

If you feel you received value from the meeting and had a good rapport with the person, ask if you may contact them in the future to discuss further issues. If you got along well, you might feel comfortable calling them up to ask for advice whenever you hit a rough patch in your activities. Or, perhaps you might limit your interactions to two or so meetings a year.

Whatever the frequency, make a plan to regularly meet with your mentor and follow through on that plan.

Pay it Forward

Mentoring is a powerful tool to develop the capacity of individuals to act wisely. Through mentoring, we can learn from the experience of others. Regardless of your stage of life, you have experiences from which someone else can learn. Societies grow strong when we leverage our expertise to strengthen each other.

The world needs to hear your stories, so please share them. Look for opportunities to mentor others. Not only will mentoring others help them, but it also helps you. Mentoring requires that you reflect deeply on your experiences so you can pull out relevant lessons. As the next section discusses, this type of reflection is a potent, personal tool to develop your inner wisdom.

 

Key Takeaways

  • A good mentor will help you organize your experiences to pull out relevant learning.
  • A good mentor will share their experience with you, helping you to avoid making the same mistakes they made
  • What makes a mentor “good?”
    • You look up to them as a wise leader.
    • You feel comfortable talking to them.
    • They have experience in the situations you face
  • When approaching a potential mentor
    • Ask permission to meet with them.
    • Be respectful of their time.
    • Come to the meeting prepared
    • Maintain your relationship with them
  • Pay it forward; sharing your experiences by mentoring others helps them and gives you a deeper understanding of your own experience.

  1. Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and Education (60th Anniv). Indianapolis: Kappa Delta Pi.
  2. Baltes, P. B., & Kunzmann, U. (2004). The Two Faces of Wisdom: Wisdom as a General Theory of Knowledge and Judgment about Excellence in Mind and Virtue vs. Wisdom as Everyday Realization in People and Products. Human Development, 47(5), 290–299.
  3. Freeman, R. E., Dunham, L., & McVea, J. (2007). Strategic Ethics--Strategy, Wisdom, and Stakeholder Theory: A Pragmatic and Entrepreneurial View of Stakeholder Strategy. In E. H. Kessler & J. R. Bailey (Eds.), Handbook of Organizational and Managerial Wisdom (pp. 151–177). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

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Mentoring by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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