By guest contributor Luis Martinez
The word mentor comes from Greek mythology. In Homer’s tale of the Odyssey, Odysseus had a son named Telemachus. Odysseus needed to go and fight the Trojan wars. Realizing he would be away for long periods of time, he asked his trusted friend, Mentor, to tutor and teach his son Telemachus. So the noun – mentor – traces its roots to that era. Today we use the noun, mentor, as a verb; we talk about mentoring someone.
What’s the value of mentorship to you? The value of mentors and mentoring is one of my favorite developmental topics. In my current book, Getting There, there is a passage dedicated to the importance of mentors. Quoting from page 125, “Mentors are, as we say in Spanish, like oro molido, as valuable as gold dust.”
One of my favorite leadership development writers is a scientist named Margaret Wheatley. She says in her book, Leadership and the New Science, “Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.” [my emphasis] That’s sound advice, and it’s at the root of a mentoring relationship.
When I meet with a client I often discuss the need to engage others and build relationships for personal self development. I ask them: “Whom do you admire?” The answer to this question gives me a window into their outlook. Whom do they see as persons worthy of emulation? Worthy of respect? Persons who have already traveled the road to success?
You, too, can find a mentor. Start by making two lists. On the first, list all the people you admire and are accessible to you. The second, list the people who inspire you, people whom you admire from afar. Call a few of those you can reach. Invest some time in building relationships with them.
In order for mentorship to work, the mentor engaging in the relationship has to: 1) set high standards, 2) be accessible, and 3) assist the mentee by suggesting and creating developmental experiences.
First, the mentor must be wise in choosing and recommending a goal set to a high standards, causing the mentee to reach out beyond their comfort zone, but without frustrating them and obviating the exercise. Second, the mentor has to be accessible and reachable when the mentee needs help. The best way is to set times to meet periodically, or at least schedule phone calls. It’s better to have a conversation and anticipate developmental events before they become a crisis for the mentee. The third point is that the mentor will use his/her experience to challenge the mentee, nudge them with an objective to perform at the next level, and with a plan and action items that will enable the mentee to see how to achieve their objective.
It’s important to realize that all elite performers have mentors and advisors. In the business world a mentor can even come in the form of a service provider who specializes in a particular, necessary part of your organization and offers valuable insight specific to their talents. Leaderships, human resource management, writing, sales, graphic design are a few examples.
If you want success you can’t “go it alone.” Knowing that, who’s your mentor?