Merriam Webster defines a mentor as:
Someone who teaches or gives guidance and advice to a less experienced and often younger person
However, one important piece missing is that the protege should be willing and interested in learning about what the mentor can provide. So I step back and look at my career – almost 10 years in a corporate environment, I may have had 1 or 2 corporate-forced “mentors” but no true and trusted person who was able to meet the total criteria of the definition plus that last important piece. Apparently, my managers or co-workers gave me the guidance I needed to get to where I am today. But now, after these last few weeks of self- reflection, I realized I never sought outside of my organizational line because there was no true passion for it. I wasn’t “willing and interested in learning” about how to do things outside of my job better. I was focused on my role, making sure my job requirements were accomplished above and beyond. So why did I need a mentor, isn’t that the purpose of on-the-job-training?
The short answer is No. Well, you’ve heard it before. “Mentoring is a 2-way street. You get what you put into it.” Blah. Blah. Blah. But if you’re like me, you’re asking yourself, “why am I not putting anything into it?”
Then recently, I attended a free business networking event hosted by TipClub, and I introduced myself to the entire gathering with having an entrepreneurial goal. Then an older gentleman approached me afterwards and introduced me to SCORE Charlotte, a group of retired executives who are making themselves available to the business community as Certified Mentors.
Then the flip switched! The idea of having a mentor, and perhaps coach, was extremely desirable. Venturing into a true passion with the need for real guidance and expertise renewed the value in finding the right mentor for me. So my next course of action is to reach out and identify that person that I am willing and interested in learning what I have a passion for.
Ask yourself these things to check if your mentor is right for you?
- Do you have a mentor that is pre-assigned or you had little input on? This may be helpful for those few cases where if you have no idea what you want yet and still trying to figure out. But if you’re already pass that stage, you need to probably find someone more aligned to your goals or passion.
- Do you schedule meetings on a set timeline (monthly, quarterly, etc.) or are you setting up meetings when you actually need help and guidance on unresolved issues? I personally believe a true mentor should be available for the latter. Regularly scheduled meetings are fine but you’re probably just doing it for the networking.
- Would you still be in contact with your mentor if you left your current role/ job? This is a good test as you should look for someone who is not only interested in your current performance goals but your overall career or life goals.
- Is your mentor too far outside of your brain trust? In this case, they wouldn’t be able to give you real sound advice since they don’t have the necessary expertise to help you as you come across your issues. You wouldn’t want them to just refer you to someone else. It’ll happen but it shouldn’t be always. Balance must be achieved.
If you’re lucky, a mentor can act as a coach as well. Many of us look for instruction to help reach our goals. As I look for my next mentor in this phase of my life, I feel armed with a set of expectations this time around. Before I was missing my passion, among other things, but it’s not too late for any of us! Best of all, a mentor is usually free. You can’t teach that type of return.
I’d be willing to learn how your mentoring experience has gone so far. Has it been as bad as mine?