3 essential qualities to look for in a great mentor

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When I was just beginning my leadership journey, I needed good people to push me to do great things (and stop me from doing stupid things). In the sense that learning never stops, this is always true.

Because my first-hand experience with mentors has been so valuable, I advocate for others to find people who can mentor them, whether they’re new to the game or have seen a few seasons. Knowing some specific criteria to look for in a mentor can make your search much easier.

1. The ability to teach yourself in a realistic and relevant way

I love legendary basketball player Larry Bird. There’s probably no one better to show someone how to perform well on the court. But if I came out as a 23-year-old business professional and took him on as a mentor, he’d probably look at me, scratch his head at my suit, and ask, “So what am I going to teach you ?”

People can have amazing skills that can make them look like gods to you. But sometimes what someone else has done in their career really isn’t the type of career you actually want to have.

To be punished. Find someone who has walked the kind of journey you want to walk, whether it’s within your own company or elsewhere. Look at their LinkedIn profile – see how they got started and worked their way up. The closer their experience is to what you would like to learn and do, the better the mentor-mentee match will likely be.

This idea of ​​relevance extends beyond your field. If a potential mentor can’t relate to you because of their age, gender, or other factors, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a great professional. It just means they might not connect or inspire you in the way you need.

Related: You need a mentor. Here’s where to find one for free

2. Good Connections

Not so long ago, someone told me openly what he wanted to do. I asked them to go to LinkedIn and find five people who had careers they would like to have (see above).

I reached out on their behalf and was able to get the person I was sponsoring a 30 minute Zoom meeting with one of the people on their mentorship wishlist. All my mentee needed was someone who could connect him with the person whose career he admired.

So when considering potential mentors, think about people you know who might be able to reach out to you and advocate for you.

3. Appropriate allocation of time

A strong mentoring track record does not necessarily mean that someone has mentored many people. This means that they have consistently invested time in their mentees and the mentees have been able to move forward with this investment. They sit down once a week, a month or whatever works with the mentees and ask what they think. They are genuinely able to meet the reasonable demands of their mentees.

Good mentors should also be able to give you homework. If the mentor hasn’t coached much and doesn’t realize you need them, you can ask them about beneficial things you can do before your next meeting.

Related: The Importance of Mentors

Ask them if there are any podcasts, books, articles, or other materials you should look into and try to get a sense of how they see the world. Their response – or lack of response – will tell you if they are active enough in your field or professional space to help you.

Whether a mentor can come up with assignments on the fly or needs a little nudge thinking about it, be prepared to invest more time than your mentor. One of my favorite books is The tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell. If I recommend this book to you and you haven’t read it in a month or two, that would be a big yellow flag for me. I’d probably wonder why I stayed late after work to meet you if you weren’t up to it and didn’t follow the advice I gave you.

Mentors don’t want or expect you to be a doormat, but they will expect you to put in real effort and be clear about your priorities. Don’t choose a mentor just because someone told you you should have one. Find a mentor because you’re ready to invest in them and in your own success.

Related: The Secret to Finding a Good Mentor: Don’t Ask to Be Mentored

Once you have the right person, get serious and own it

I was lucky to have had five mentors, all of whom were different in how they worked with me and what I was able to learn. I’ve watched and practiced what they do – like following the advice of a great presenter I admire to become a better speaker. No matter how many successes I have had in my professional life, the majority would not have happened without my mentors.

My experience has shown me how much others can share to help others grow, but I’ve also learned that there’s nothing better than digging into tough projects alongside someone who knows really his job.

Remember: talent may come naturally, but skills are things you have to work on and spend your time on. Find the right person who is ready to accompany you in this work. From there, embrace more challenging tasks and take on them.

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