The Down and Dirty on Finding a Good Mentor

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Jim Rohn once said that we’re the average of the five people that we spend the most time with.

This quote has become one of my life’s guidelines, because mentorship has changed the way I live. I didn’t like the direction my life was taking 5 years ago, so I decided to make a change. I decided to be intentional about the people that I listen to and learn from. Ask yourself which five voices in your life influence you the most at any given time. You get to choose what those five voices are.

When you know what you want in a mentor, here are some simple yet powerful tips for making the most of this important relationship.

Let’s be best friends, not!

You won’t always like your mentors and they certainly won’t always like you. Some of the best mentors you'll ever have will annoy the living tar out of you. I’ve learned the most from the mentors that rub me the wrong way. The mentors that I rarely get along with are my challenger mentors. They challenge me. They challenge my way of thinking. Sometimes even their very presence pushes me out of my comfort zone.  

Different mentors motivate us in different ways. A mentor will typically fit into one of these roles: coach, connector, cheerleader, and a challenger. You need every single one of these different types of mentors, but different seasons will require different styles of leadership in your life. Which way motivates you the most? Which one teaches you the most? Which one do you need in your life right now? If you don’t know the answer right now, you’ll eventually learn through having mentors.

One of the best challenger mentors that I’ve ever had reprimanded me the first time I interacted with her. She was a retired African-American principal of the Denver school district. She was surprised when I asked her to mentor me, but she agreed to it. We met once a month for coffee for one hour. I learned to listen more than I spoke. I started getting my notepad out to take notes. I learned to simply enjoy the company of someone who was older, wiser and far more educated than I was. I didn’t nearly always like what she had to say to me, but she always spoke truth that came back to me later when I was willing to actually pay attention to it.

Just take it from me and don’t throw in the towel too quickly when you find yourself face to face with a challenger. A challenger will usually take you the furthest in your levels of growth.  

Don’t waste their time

Don't be a waste of your mentor's time. When you find a real life mentor to learn from, find a way to bring value to the relationship. Nurture the relationship by respecting their time and honoring them for what you learn from them. Sometimes you’ll be able to volunteer your time to help further their causes. Don’t just be a knowledge sponge — take action on what you learn from them and walk it out.

I met a 20-year-old guy who was really successful and wise beyond his years. I asked him what his secret to growth was and he told me. He said, “I take people out to lunch.”  

When he admired someone, he always asked them out for lunch or coffee and always took care of the tab. Typically this wouldn’t happen more than once with that individual because they had their own lives to live, but he said he always had great conversations that he could learn a lot from. As a teenager, without the budget to spend on digital course and being too young for most formal educational things, he took the opportunity to learn from those he admired by saving up and taking them out to lunch.

I can imagine that mentors and leaders invested in him just based on his initiative and eagerness to learn. Imagine if all of us had this type of intuition and drive as teenagers? Imagine where we’d be today?

Imagine where you could be in 5 years if you submitted yourself to the guidance of those who are more experienced than you are?

No one has time to babysit you

A good mentor won't hold your hand. You’ll find that you typically only get key touchpoints with a mentor. Be prepared to learn whatever you can from that person when you have those touchpoint moments with them. Take what you learn and put it into practice. Learn to be self-motivated and self-sufficient. Learn to be grateful for criticism, because it’ll always help you grow. When you can’t figure something out, Google it before you ask.

Mentors are human, too

Never put mentors on a pedestal. Mentors are human, too! They can lead you wrong and may even hurt you. Be self-aware and know when it's time to move on from a mentor, but don’t shut down over one bad apple.

You’ll outgrow mentors

Growing out of one mentorship into another one is a sign that you’re growing. When a mentorship relationship fades or is no longer a good fit for you, you’ll know that you learned what you were supposed to learn and you’ll move on.

Sometimes a mentor comes back around into your path again where you can reconnect and catch up. The relationship should always be different the second or third time around because you have grown and they recognize this. Occasionally a mentorship may develop into a collaboration or partnership.

Sometimes you’ll get to know a mentor who isn’t as mature or successful in life as you thought they were. Outgrowing a mentor is a really odd feeling the first time it happens. The best thing I've learned from this is to be open-handed with the whole process. I’ve learned to not cling to or put expectations on a mentor that I'm learning from. It's been crucial for me to learn this.

Last year two pretty significant mentors faded out of my life and sphere of influence. It was a tough transition for me, but I soon began to recognize that it's because I was ready for my next step on my own. I had been clinging too much to what they could teach me or tell me. It was time to test some of my own theories and put into practice what I had learned from them.

You cannot graduate to another level unless you change your teachers and atmosphere from time to time. A 5th grader can’t graduate from 5th grade by himself and he won’t grow out of the mindset that was in during the 5th grade unless his atmosphere changes to level up to 6th grade and beyond. I stole this analogy from one of my former mentors, Garrain Jones.  

Be who you want to learn from

Finally, be a mentor! The best way to learn and grow is to pour back out. One of my mentors lived by the principle that she would always have a mentor and that she’d also always be mentoring others. She believed that both practices are important to experience effective personal growth.

Write down a list of some simple ways that you can be a mentor to others. It might be as simple as teaching someone how to make pastry the way your grandma taught you. It might be to take what you’ve learned about traveling on a budget and doing a YouTube video about it. It might be to write about what you’ve learned in life and business to become a contributor on Making Moxie.

I have a couple people that I mentor and I also share what I’m learning in group settings when I’m asked to speak. This always stretches me out of my comfort zone, lets information flow out of me that I've learned, and sharpens my communication skills.

Mentoring others turns into a type of accountability. Now you’re held accountable for not only what you’ve learned from your mentors but what you’re now teaching others.