Finding the right mentor for you
Behind every great person is a trusted advisor
By Scott Addis
Your business associates, friends, family, the Web, industry associations and periodicals provide you with a flow of information regarding news, business trends and opportunities. Industry analysts, business associates and networking contacts share their expert knowledge. But only mentors can truly share their unique wisdom with you.
Mentorship refers to a developmental relationship in which a more experienced person helps a less experienced person, referred to as a protégé. The word itself was inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey. Though the actual Mentor in the story is a somewhat ineffective old man, the goddess Athena takes on his appearance in order to guide young Telemachus in his time of difficulty.
A mentor is someone with more entrepreneurial business experience than you who serves as a trusted confidant over an extended period of time. Why do they do this? First and foremost, as a way of giving back. They also do it because they care about and respect you. They may do it to develop their skills as a teacher, manager, strategist or coach. And, a true mentoring relationship also works in both directions—the mentor learns about new ideas from you, just as you acquire timeless wisdom from the mentor.
The mentor’s role is to provide an appropriate degree of challenge and support—emotional, technical and tactical—so that you can build competence and confidence. The mentor is an information source who can advise you in decision making and problem solving and who offers ongoing encouragement. His or her nonjudgmental approach is most critical because your development hinges upon self-discovery.
The mentor/protégé relationship between Earl and Tiger Woods is an interesting and powerful example. Earl Woods was more determined to rear a good son than a great golfer. Most important to the elder Woods was serving as a mentor so that he would be able to influence his son’s life beyond golf. In an interview with Golf Digest, Earl stated, “I just wanted to raise a good person.”
Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Earl was the youngest and the only male of four siblings. His father was the scorekeeper for baseball games and coached Earl until his death in 1943. His mother died soon thereafter in 1947. After being orphaned, Earl was reared by his eldest sister.
Of African-American, Chinese and Native American ancestry, Earl Woods broke the color barrier in baseball while attending Kansas State University. He played catcher and was good enough that the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues offered him a contract. However, he rejected the Monarchs, graduated from college in 1953 and started a career in the United States Army where he served two full tours in the Vietnam War.
Earl Woods was honored as a member of the Green Berets. It was during his time in Asia that Earl met and married Kulinda, whose family background is Thai, Chinese and Dutch. The marriage produced Eldrick who was born on December 30, 1975. His nickname “Tiger” came from Earl’s friendship with Vuong Dang Phong, a Vietnamese Army Colonel whom Earl called “Tiger.”
Tiger was a child prodigy who began to play golf at the age of two. Before his third birthday, he had appeared on the “Mike Douglas Show” and played exhibitions with Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus. Earl was Tiger’s mentor. He taught Tiger to be mentally strong by doing things such as juggling change in his pockets and warning his son of water hazards when he was in the middle of his down swing. Simply, the relationship between father and son was set in a foundation of trust supported by clearly defined expectations.
Tiger reflected: “In retrospect, golf for me was an apparent attempt to emulate the person I looked up to more than anyone in the world—my father…He was instrumental in helping me develop my drive to achieve.” At the time of his father’s death, Tiger told the press: “My dad was my best friend and greatest role model…He was an amazing dad, coach, mentor, soldier, husband and friend.”
What it takes
Earl Woods proved to be an amazing mentor to his beloved son. However, not every person is suited to this role. A mentor must possess a special combination of traits including, but not limited to, patience, trustworthiness, listening skills, positive attitude, technical competence, brutal honesty, toughness and a keen desire to help.
In choosing a mentor, you should carefully assess his or her ability and desire to take on this role. You should consider the following five items:
Know yourself. Consciously think about where you are in your career, and where you would like to be. Assess what type of personality you have and which personality types complement your style. Consider your strengths and weaknesses and define how a mentor might best guide you.
Keep an open mind about who this person might be. A mentor is someone who will help you grow in areas that are most important to you. This person is not necessarily your best friend, supervisor or someone with a high-ranking title, or even a person in the same industry. It is far more important for you to look for someone who exemplifies the traits and skills that you want to adopt.
Identify where you may find a suitable mentor. Good sources of mentors include your management team, industry associations, online communities and professors. You may also wish to consider people in your non-workplace circles such as retirees, local business leaders, people who share your hobbies, people who attend your church, community organizations you belong to.
Know what you want to achieve from the relationship. A clear understanding of your purpose and the desired result is essential to finding a suitable mentor. Without knowing what you wish to achieve, you will waste your time, as well as that of the mentor. In the best of all worlds, it is not just you who will benefit from the relationship. The mentor will also see the opportunity for personal growth.
Think about people who have been mentors in the past. Whether by design or not, you have had mentors in the past. Think about people who have mentored you and the qualities that you appreciated most about them. Use these traits as barometers in determining the traits you desire in your new mentor.
It is essential that you understand that the responsibility for your growth and development belongs to you, not your mentor. It is up to you to identify personal and business objectives such as work/life balance, professional presence, career advancement and business development. You must also be careful not to assume that your mentor will be more actively involved than he or she is able. If you set unrealistic expectations, you and your mentor may become frustrated and disappointed.
Tiger Woods was blessed to have a mentor at his side from the time he was born. For the vast majority of people, finding the right mentor is not that easy. However, your search is worth the effort. The payoff is huge. As someone who serves as both a mentor and protégé, I strongly recommend the journey. My mentoring experiences (as both a mentor and protégé) have enhanced my personal and professional development and increased my sense of confidence and capability.