The Ins and Outs of Having and/or Being a Mentor

by Chris King

Every self-help tape I've heard and every book I've read on how to become a success - and there are many of both - suggest finding a mentor. What is a mentor? What is a mentor's role? Where do I find one? Should I become one? Should I have only one mentor? What should I expect from a mentor? In this article, I will tackle some of these tough questions.

What is a mentor and what is a mentor's role?
I decided to look mentor up in the dictionary and found the succinct descriptions: "trusted counselor or guide," "a wise, loyal advisor," and "a teacher or coach." I feel the operative words here are "trusted," "wise" and "loyal." We have all had mentors in our lives, but not always considered them to be a mentor. A mentor may have been a parent, who was more than a parent; a teacher who was more than a teacher; a coach, who was more than a coach; a friend, who was more than a friend.

Thinking back, I realize how lucky I have been to have had the mentors I had. My father was my first mentor. He was not only wise, trusted and loyal, he believed in me and my potential. He made me realize the value of giving my very best to every project. In school, I had a few teachers who went far beyond being teachers by spending extra time and effort with those of us who tried. In college, my advisor showed such obvious joy in my accomplishments, I had to do well for her sake, as well as my own. Think back about the people who have been mentors to you. I would add a few more words to the definition. I feel that a mentor is a lot more than a counselor, guide, teacher, or coach. A true mentor cares and is someone who believes in you so much that he or she causes you to believe in yourself.

Where do I find a mentor?
There is that old saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears." If we decide we need a mentor now and then actively seek one, so often we will be disappointed because we are trying too hard. On the other hand, if we remain open and giving of our time and expertise to others, we will be surprised by how many mentor opportunities appear. In the year 2001 my goal was to grow my new website design business - not the most advantageous time for Information Technology.
I knew very few people in this field until I attended an all day entrepreneurial seminar in February and was seated next to the IT guru who has become my mentor. He has helped me and my business more than any amount of PR, marketing or selling could possibly have done.

You might also consider adopting some "external mentors of influence" - people you don't actually know in person, but by whom you are duly impressed. These are teachers from the past and present whom you want to emulate. For example, one of my "external mentors of influence" is Tony Robbins. Even though I don't know him personally, I have attended one of his fire-walking seminars (yes, I did walk across those hot coals), have read his books and have listened to all of his tapes. When I need an extra boost or the answer to a question, I pop in a tape. Another suggestion is to pick an "external mentor of influence" from the past. A lot of people use Benjamin Franklin. Just say to yourself, "Now how would old Ben handle this situation?"

It is important that the mentor-mentee relationship is satisfying to both people involved. If you find someone you would like to have as a mentor, ask him or her if they are willing. If they back out gracefully, or just say, "No," accept the answer graciously and without devastation. If you are accepted as a mentee, make sure that you know the ground rules - what you both expect from the relationship. If your mentor suggests that you make certain changes to push yourself to a new level, will you be willing to follow those suggestions? Being a mentor can be satisfying and exhilarating as long as you feel that your mentee is giving it his or her "all." If, however, you begin to feel drained and/or manipulated, it is time to bow out.

I recently became involved in a mentor-mentee situation where the young man I was meeting with on a regular basis gave me the impression that he was "using" my talents, abilities and knowledge to advance his career rather than trying to develop his own talents, abilities and knowledge. The minute I started to feel this way, I suggested that we not meet so often. We have remained friends and now see each other once in awhile for fun. I feel strongly that as long as both of you feel that your relationship is beneficial, keep it up; but once it isn't good for one and/or both of you, have the guts to move on.

So, ask yourself the following questions. Who have been my best mentors over the years? Is there someone I would like to have as a mentor now? Is there someone I would like to mentor now? What external mentor of influence would I want to emulate and learn from? When and how will I start on my mentor quest?

The time is now! Try it - you will be glad you did!


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