It’s that time of year where we expect a lull in our work lives as our personal obligations ramp up but seem to never find that lull, make plans with friends and families, reflect on the year behind us, and start thinking about what the next year may bring for us. While many of us already have or have had mentors in our lives and may be mentors ourselves, I thought it a great topic to explore this week.
First off, if you are looking for a mentor, what are the qualities you should seek out? Forbes contributor Erika Andersen lists five good one in her article, and while it seems obvious, it’s important to add available to the list. If your mentor isn’t available, both from the practicality of time and to the level of connection you desire in the relationship, you need to find a kind way to pass on the relationship. With the commitment you require of them, however, remember the commitment you have to them. Show up. Do the work they require of you. Discuss and respect an operating rhythm and boundaries.
Where do you look for a mentor? Well, Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc. all have ideas towards that end, and I don’t think there’s much to add beyond their points. Inc., as always, does a great job of outlining not only where to look, but also how to build the relationship and some pitfalls to avoid in your search. So what does a good mentoring relationship look like? Rajeesh Shetty notes they typically have nine critical components: conversations, commitment, curiosity, clarity, capacity, confidence, connections, choreography, and celebrations. I think the last in the list, celebration, is one we frequently forget to allow ourselves in our mentoring relationships. Rajeesh says that these are listed in no order of importance, but as often as we wallow in our failures, celebrating our successes should have equal weight. Tim Ferriss talks about his Jar of Awesome where he takes time after each success to write it down and throw it in the jar as he never takes to time to celebrate success. How many of us are guilty of that?
For me, I leverage a personal Board of Directors versus one single mentor. Why? Because I’ve found it to be more effective to have individual’s whose expertise I can tap versus just one individual who I rely on to be all things; no one person possesses all the skills necessary for their protégés to succeed. That and HBR has this article where they equate mentoring to avocado colored appliances. Mind you, that’s not the reason to have a PBD, but it’s a humorous implied simile nonetheless. This concept certainly doesn’t start there – Jim Collins wrote about it back in 1996 and it cycles through popular media every so often.
But who should be on your board of directors? Here’s one article and another that both speak to that point, but I believe this is a personal decision based on where you are in your own career and other pursuits. This cohort should be a very specific one that is tied to your near and mid-range goals and some may cycle out over time as you evolve. Fortunately, for the “how-to,” Inc. is again kind enough to give us a guide to that end and Forbes has some ideas as well. An unofficial member of my personal board of directors is Tim Ferriss. While he may be irreverent and crass at time, I find his weekly podcast to be incredibly insightful and he talks to some pretty amazing folks every week from many walks of life. Check it out, or find an unofficial member of your own board and listen every week.
Again, many of us act as mentors already, and this isn’t meant to detract from our engagement in that critical part of our culture, simply to help us elevate our own thinking and pushing ourselves a little harder as we go into 2016. Interested in becoming a mentor in your local community? Check out organizations like MicroMentor to see how you can help out local entrepreneurs. If you decide to mentor people in your community, check out this article from Inc. for key qualities of an effective mentor from back in 2010.
As a footnote, I said I’d report back after reading Jesse Itzler’s Living with a Seal and I have to say, it was a fast and worthwhile read, not just to experience his journey over the course of that month, but also because of how the book challenges how we view what’s possible. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the means or flexibility to do what Jesse did, but it was truly a transformative experience for him. You can buy the book over on Amazon or check out Jesse’s site about the experience. Unfortunately he’s taken down the original blog as far as I can tell since publishing the book.