So You Want to Be a Leader? You Better Find a Mentor

post by Nigel Dessau:

have never met anyone who was successful in life who did not have at least one
mentor. Having good mentors indicates that you have a great network—something
every 21st century executive and leader should have. However, finding the right
mentor can be a challenge.

A few years
ago, I worked for a company that was acquired by Sun Microsystems. I was undecided
about whether to stay with Sun after the acquisition, so I consulted with one
of my mentors.

My mentor was
very supportive of the move to Sun. He noted correctly that, as a Silicon
Valley company, Sun offered a very different organization compared to the
companies I had worked for. He emphasized Sun’s speed and innovation and the
fact that having Sun Microsystems on my resume would be a very good thing.

Ultimately, I
considered his input and the overall impact of taking on the role on my own
personal portfolio. I accepted the job at Sun. Today, I believe that the skills
and experience the job provided were instrumental in rounding out my character
and helping my career growth. My experience with Sun helped significantly in my
getting my next job.

Do you need a(nother)

While searching
for the right mentor, you need to consider why
you want to develop that relationship. What do you hope to get out of it? Your answers
will help you identify potential mentors who can meet your needs.

Most people
seek a mentor because they know they need help in certain areas of their work
or personal lives. If you want someone to help you improve in your current
role, then you need to look for someone who has a background similar to yours,
but with more depth and experience. Sometimes, you want someone to be your
mentor simply because you respect her as an individual, considering what she
has accomplished and what you think you can learn from her.

What to Look for in a Mentor

Finding the
right mentor is similar to dating. You need to meet a lot of people and not
everyone will be the right fit. Before starting a mentor relationship, talk a
few times about both parties’ expectations for the relationship.

In these
conversations you determine if you both can find the common ground that is the
foundation of any good mentoring relationship. In other words, don’t get
married until you have dated for a while.

When deciding
to ask someone to be your mentor, you should consider three questions:

  1. Is
    this someone I can relate to and does this person have what I need?
    Sometimes, we expect a mentor to be
    a parental figure. At other times, the mentor serves as confessor. There
    are a variety of mentor relationships. The core of any positive mentor
    relationship should be some commonality of experience and viewpoint.

  1. Does
    this mentor have a background that is different enough from mine?
    Although relating to your mentor
    is important, an effective mentor cannot be your mirror image. You need
    someone whose experience is not exactly the same as yours. Look for
    someone who has worked in a different function, role, department, country,
    company or some combination of these.

  1. Will
    this person push me?

    There is no point to having a mentor who agrees with everything you say
    and reinforces your own perceptions. Intentionally find someone who will
    push you and take you to the next level in your career and development.

Building the relationship

A mentor
relationship is a sharing relationship. If you want to avoid ‘Muddle
Management,’ you also want to avoid ‘Muddle Mentoring.’ Your mentor is not your
psychiatrist. He or she is more of a management consultant. Here are some steps
to building a stronger mentor relationship:

  1. Think about this relationship not
    just in terms of what you can get out of it, but what you can and are
    willing to put into it.

  1. Build a relationship based on trust
    and honesty. If you don’t think you can do that, you may have the wrong

  1. Think through how you will manage
    the mentor relationship. Too many people make the mistake of assuming
    their mentors will drive the whole experience forward.

  1. Respect your mentor’s time and make
    sure you use it wisely.

  1. If the mentor relationship is not
    working out, you need to consider your part in the problem and take
    whatever steps necessary to make things right or end the relationship

  1. Consider whether your expectations
    for the mentor relationship are reasonable. You cannot expect a mentor to
    do your job for you or to give you all the answers.

  1. Don’t limit yourself to one mentor.
    Different people bring different perspectives to your life. Having
    multiple mentor relationships can provide you with a strong sounding board
    before you make decisions or take action on something.

In the end, each
of us has different careers and different needs to mentors. Moreover, we all
know people who could benefit from what we have learned from our mentors. As
much as you will get from talking and spending time with your mentors, you will
get more from mentoring yourself. It really is the best was to ‘pay it
forward,’ which in itself, is the sign that you are a 21st Century

Nigel Dessau is the author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack. As a nationally award-winning marketing professional with over 25 years of experience leading corporate marketing and communications for several multi-million and billion dollar companies, he is also the creator and driving force behind the 3 Minute Mentor website, which provides significant career guidance in three-minute videos.

more about the 3 Minute Mentor and Become
a 21st Century Executive
or and connect
with him on Twitter at @3minutementor and @nigeldessau.