Why and how to pick a good Mentor
By Twama Nambili
Chevening Scholar, Candidate, MSc Corporate Governance and Business Ethics.
Whether you are an employee, a start-up entrepreneur, a millionaire or multi-billionaire, none achieves anything on their own. No matter what level or position you are in life, you need to have a mentor. I am sharing this information because I know first hand how instrumental having a mentor can be in your life.
Myself, I have three mentors and I also mentor two other upcoming entrepreneurs. A mentor can help you achieve your goals, they can help uplift you and show you the ropes because they have been in the same position you want to achieve. I would like to share a few tips on finding a good mentor, and I am going to be brutally honest because this is your life and you can’t afford to be taken for a ride or waste your time with someone who doesn’t care about your progress.
1. You want to find someone you admire and respect; that has a good track record and credibility, particularly in the field of work you are in or planning to be in. I recommend that you find someone who has been through the journey or is in a place where you want to be. You don’t want someone who sits on the sidelines, to give you advice. You don’t want someone who has never achieved, to tell you how to achieve. This also means that you should find a mentor who can relate to you, can tolerate you and does not mind mentoring someone with less skill or expertise. Find a person with a genuine interest in your career and advancement. You need someone who enjoys challenges because they can help you solve puzzles you may encounter in your business, personal, or work life.
2. You should be able to trust this person. Trust is established over a period of time. I don’t recommend that you just pick a person today without having researched that person or knowing their intentions.
You want someone who has answers (or can find answers) and can truly guide you on how you can achieve your mission. Since we are not perfect, it’s possible that you may not find all the qualities in one person and hence it’s normal to sometimes find people with two or more mentors. But it’s also possible to find a person who only has one mentor. The reason for sometimes having more than one mentor, for me, is being able to have a second opinion when I reached a moment of conflict.
3. Please try to avoid getting a mentor who is patronizing, unless you goal is to build skills on how to manage a patronizing person with a big ego! Maybe this will strengthen you for challenging managers or stakeholders, but (for me) a mentor like that will drive me crazy because a mentor should be someone with whom you enjoy or get excited about meeting.
4. You want to avoid a mentor who cannot make commitments. A good example of this is a mentor who continuously cancels meetings. Find someone who can commit to giving you their sufficient time and of meeting you regularly or at least four times per year.
5. You really want to find someone whom you can be yourself around, without putting on a formal façade, because how will such a person help you if they don’t even know who the real you is?
6. You obviously need a person who has a good network of influencers and is well-connected, someone who is able to pick up the phone and connect you with a possible learning opportunity, or will make connections with people you should meet and/or events to attend.
7. If you run a business or are an entrepreneur, find someone who has great understanding of your organization and industry.
8. A mentor does not exist to make decisions for you, rather they are there to guide you—to ask questions and help you reach your own decisions. A mentor who wants to make decisions for you or want you to do exactly what they told you (word for word) is not a mentor you need to have. A good mentor sticks by you even when you make mistakes that you could have avoided by following their advice.
9. A good mentor does not mind if you rise above their success. Avoid any mentor who is threatened by your success. Generally, mentors who are insecure and are not happy with where they are in life may see you as competition and may purposefully give you wrong advice to prevent you from rising. Avoid any mentor who tries to prevent you from pursuing good ideas. Such mentors will never help you achieve your full potential if it entails you raising above them. You want a mentor who is content with where they are in life, and such mentors generally get joy from seeing you rise because you are a reflection of their success—because they helped build you up.
10. Try to find a mentor who is able to learn from you. And I am not saying he should learn from you at the beginning. I simply mean that find someone who can sometimes admit some of your ideas are better than their own. Even if he says it once or twice per year, it means he values your intellect as well as your skills.
11. Avoid finding someone who will tell you what you want to hear! You need a mentor who has high standards and values; someone who values mistakes for learning, has great interpersonal skills, is straightforward with you, is a good listener, is open and honest, and can actually gives you feedback on your communication style.
12. Last but not least, avoid (at all times) a mentor whom you feel sexually attracted to! It’s an equation for disaster.