Young professionals need someone to pattern themselves after – a trusted adviser, a supporter, a person who can lend experience. Since finding a great mentor is one of the best ways to enhance your own future, I recommend the following:
Let it happen. Don’t ask someone to be your mentor. The best ones are already taken. They’re buried with requests. So just watch them, take mental notes, follow their examples. And if someone naturally takes a special interest in you, you’ve found gold. Cherish it as a life-changing gift.
Focus on integrity. Choose someone to pattern yourself after who has impeccable integrity. Then watch how they manage challenging situations, tough conversations and setbacks.
Pick someone who shares your values. Values are a person’s “default positions” when no one is watching. They’re usually most evident in how we spend our time, our money and our mental energy. They’re hard to change, so pick someone who naturally overlaps with you.
Find a “teacher.” Look for someone who enjoys sharing knowledge and is delighted to impart skills, contacts and expertise – not someone who hoards them as a way to maintain power.
Look for a listener. Many people listen only to gather their own thoughts and to prepare their own reactions. Great mentors tend to be people who listen to understand. They ask follow-up questions and they make sure they’ve understood before they react.
Seek someone with a network. Networks take a lifetime to build. And if you’ve found a mentor who has adopted your career interests as his or her own, you’ll be introduced to a world of contacts it would otherwise take you years to develop. If you’re given the gift of a warm introduction, don’t blow it – respect the gift.
Find a leader who cares about others. Look for mentors who take joy in the success of others and want them to get ahead. Self-absorbed people never make good mentors (beyond observable narrow skills).
Choose an optimist. They tend to get more done, have deeper relationships and be more reliable when the going gets tough. Plus, optimists tend to be cheerleaders – a key trait in finding the perfect mentor. If you find one of these, it’ll remind you of your mom – the one person in the world who believed in you during your darkest moments.
Don’t be put off by straight talk. Look for someone who’ll give you feedback. If you buy the idea that feedback is the breakfast of champions, your best mentors will be the people who pull you aside and tell you what you need to hear – even when you don’t want to hear it. (I recall a business coach who pulled me aside after what I thought had been a brilliant performance, to say simply “You talked too much.” That was it! And he was right.)
Pick respect over love. Lean toward finding someone to follow whom others admire and respect. Sometimes, these are not the most popular people, but there’s usually a reason for universal admiration and respect. Figure out what it is in your potential mentor and pattern yourself after the quality that generates such respect.
My first business mentor didn’t know she was my mentor until years later. But I respected and admired her so much I watched and learned. And there were other mentors I had that I watched and knew I never wanted to be like. You will come across both, be wise and do what is best for you and your career.
If you’re lucky enough to find one, they are special. Then when the time is right, pay it forward and be a mentor yourself.
Make it a great day!