Years ago, I had a mentor who taught me much about life, but mostly he taught me how to be a mentor to others. Frustrated with life and trying to get an answer to a question I perceived to be very difficult, he said to me: “Bernard, just keep on talking, you’re going to answer yourself in about five minutes.” In that moment, I thought he was being unfair by not giving me the answer. However, five minutes later I did have the answer to my problem and it came out of my own mouth. It turns out that a good mentor will know when to guide, when to instruct and when to simply be a sounding board.
Many people struggle to find a mentor, even when they’re actively looking for one. In most cases though, this is a misconception caused by a faulty definition. So, what then is a mentor?
A mentor is anyone who is further down the path of development in any area of life where you wish to succeed. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest three kinds of mentors you can find, or possibly already have. I’ll call these superiors, aspirational leaders and virtual leaders. Let me unpack these, and don’t miss my bonus tip at the end.
We all come into life with a natural hierarchical structure. You have parents and grandparent, teachers, employers, coaches and more. Each of these relationships natural lends itself to mentorship. You don’t have to ask these people to share their knowledge, experiences or wisdom with you. It flows naturally out of the relationship. Sure, you may have to work at the relationship and yes, sometimes what you learn from them is what not to do. But, that’s okay.
These natural superior type relationships thrust upon us, provide easy access for mentorship. The greatest impediment to mentorship in these relationships is likely to be your own inclination towards rebel against or discount the value of the learning from this relationship.
When I say, aspirational leaders, I’m not talking those you don’t have access to, like Richard Branson (unless you’re in his circle of influence). I’m referring to the gray heard guy in your church who treats his wife like gold, or the leader of a different division on your company, a local entrepreneur. They key is that you admire and aspire to be like them in one or more areas of your life.
You can do this from a distance, but you can also reach out to them to deepen the relationship over time. Learning more directly from them, by spending time in whatever setting they’re able to give to you. If they don’t have time to meet, but regularly go for a lunch hour run, then you strap on your runners and go run with them. If it’s breakfast at 7:00, then you get up early and meet them.
Virtual leaders are the most neglected or missed opportunity. We live in a media age where it is impossible not to find someone you can use as a virtual mentor. You have podcasts, books, conferences, YouTube channels, and so much more options. The key is to find some in the area you want to develop and then to consume as much of their content as possible. If the person has a blog, then read it regularly. If they have a podcast, subscribe to it. If they have books published, read these.
The key with virtual mentors is not to go a mile wide and an inch deep. Be selective and then go a mile deep into their content. If you do chose more than one mentor, at least be selective about the area in your life you’d like to develop, then go deep into that topic.
Like the Dead Poets Society, you could also have your own dead mentors. Dead mentors are some of the best you can have. If they’re well known enough to you (e.g. a grandparent) or publicly (e.g. a famous world leader), then you’re able to see their live from begging to end. You can see the highs and lows, the good and bad. You can learn as much from someone’s mistakes as you can from their achievements.
Come back next week, for some of my suggestions for how to identify these mentors and developing the relationship. I’ll also give some suggested mentors I believe most people can benefit from.