According to ‘Google’ a mentor is:
A person or friend who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modelling positive behaviours. An effective mentor understands that his or her role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee.
In the business or career world, my definition of a mentor is:
“Someone who is where you want to be and is willing to spend their limited and important time, sharing with you how they did it, warts and all”
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There are lots of blogs explaining what makes a good mentor (dependable, engaged, authentic). However, from engaging mentors all of my working life I believe I have worked out the three key things to look for in an awesome mentor:
1. Someone who you are scared to approach to be your mentor because they are so awesome
The further they are ahead and the more successful they are, the more likely they are to have made some seriously big mistakes! The more mistakes they have made and experiences they can share, the less likely you are to make those same mistakes. Bonus! Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of mistakes for you to make and share with your mentee one day. In most cases an awesome future mentor will say yes to helping you but make sure you are persistent and have a good pitch to put forward as to why they should generously gift you their time.
2. Someone who gets grumpy with you if you don’t do the work you need to do to be where you want to be
Ultimately it makes no difference to the mentor if you achieve your business or career goal, however, a truly committed mentor will still care. A truly committed mentor will keep you accountable to what you said you wanted, even though they don’t have time! In other words, if you are going to use their valuable time discussing your dream and picking their brain, you better be prepared to give them a return on investment by achieving it … or at least giving it a red hot go. Otherwise grab a drink with one of your mates and talk about all the cool things you would like to have but ultimately are not prepared to work for and stop wasting your mentor’s time! It might sound harsh but it is the truth.
3. Someone who is blunt enough to give you an upper cut when you need it (not literally, obviously)
It is really hard giving constructive criticism to people but we all know we are better off hearing the truth if it is going to help us achieve our goals. A mentor is not there to be your friend, they are there to help you achieve your dream. And if you haven’t achieved it yet, it means there are things you need to improve. That may be developing new skills, working harder or making a tough call you are putting off. A truly valuable mentor will pull your head out of the sand and tell you as it is, no matter how hard it is to hear. So I suggest you listen up, pay attention and take action!
If you have a mentor or are considering getting one (or you are one, or are considering being one), I recommend you do a quick assessment of my three ‘awesome mentor’ attributes and see how they stack up.
I am incredibly grateful for the mentors I have had throughout my journey. They have generously given me their time for free, shared their mistakes and vulnerabilities and been a sounding board when I have been completely stuck. Not to mention the inspiration they have sprinkled in my life by doing such amazing things.
Thank you to my sometimes scary and intimidating but always totally awesome past and current mentors. I am sure you will recognise the lessons you have taught me in this blog. This one is for you!
Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder and director of wattsnext, specialists in HR, recruitment, compliance and people performance.