The longer I continue in leadership positions, the more I realize how much I really don’t know. In fact, I’m made aware of this each and everyday. I’ve learned; the more I think I know, the more I don’t know and the more I don’t know, the more I need to know! However, one thing I do know, knowledge needs to be transferred to others.
Everything you learn and receive from others is not yours; you are simply a processor of information and it must be passed on. Whether it’s a recent graduate, a technical person, or an experienced professional, I realize that my job as a leader is to transfer knowledge and experience to them. That’s what drives me.
I reflect upon my parents, youth leaders, pastors, coaches, and career professionals who imparted wisdom, knowledge, and experience to me. Without them, I wouldn’t have known how to navigate through life’s challenges. Mentors have been influential in life, impacting both my marriage and my career. In fact, I can recall an individual whom I still lean upon for guidance in my safety career. He has directed, advised, and even scolded me when needed (unfortunately that’s often). Additionally, he has pointed out when I’ve had ideas of significance or times when my attitude needs an adjustment. Everywhere I turn and in almost every conversation, there seems to be an opportunity to either mentor someone or to be mentored myself. I came across this statement the other day; “It’s hard to improve when you have no one to follow but yourself.” To me, this quote reiterates the belief that influence develops through experiences with others.
Identifying the right person to advise you is equally important to what you learn. So, how do you identify and chose a mentor? Below are 10 questions to ask before considering a personal mentor in your own life.
- Are they a leader? – John Maxwell concludes, “It takes a leader to know one, show one and grow”If they haven’t experienced it, done it, or taught it, I question whether they are ready to mentor. Identify those who are successful in their professional or personal endeavors. Look for someone who is respected and viewed by others as a leader. When identifying a mentor, seek someone whom you regard highly. You don’t have to aim too though; if you’re pursuing politics…do you need the President of the United States as you mentor?
- Are they open and available? – A mentor must be willing and open to share their experiences (the good and the bad) as well as personal insight. After all, mentorship is a transfer of knowledge. Will they be available to meet on a regular basis? Mentorship is best accomplished through face-to-face interactions.
- Can I trust them? – Is the person trustworthy? Do they possess integrity, ethics and the same moral compass you desire? Do they have wisdom to make sound decisions and solve problems? It’s through knowledge and experience of seasoned mentors that problems and situations can be resolved in a correct manner. A wise mentor can guide you through a situation with only a few words; this in turn allows growth through your own experience.
- Are they transparent, egocentric, or arrogant? – It’s important to note that even mentors make mistakes; however, does that person readily admit his or her shortcomings to you? When identifying mentors, seek those who are willing to share their experiences, even if some are unpleasant.
- Do you “buy into” what this person is about? – Plain and simple, do they influence you in the right way? In other words, you must be of the same mind before allowing your mentor to influence. I know many successful professionals, but for one reason or another, I simply cannot consent to what they say or how things are done. Maybe it’s in the way they treat others or how tasks are accomplished. Don’t chose a mentor based solely upon their accolades, examine the person as a whole.
- Do they honor their commitments, have the respect of others, and consistently model excellence? – A mentor must honor their commitments. If they continually cancel appointments or never answer their phone (via voicemails, emails, texts, etc.), then they are not the right fit for you. Search for those whom others respect and speak highly of. In my own experience, I’ve found that if a person honors commitments and is respected by others, then they often model excellence within their own lives.
- Are they relationship builders? – Mentorship is a relationship. A mentor must convey the sense that they care about you and your future. If not, then why are they investing? Is it for self gain? I am not speaking of mere friendship, but rather about connection and a relationship where the individual is committed to helping you reach your potential. If there is no relationship, you will feel frustrated and fall short of expectations.
- Do they recognize mentorship as a long-term process? – Mentoring someone requires time and effort, as well as consistency. When evaluating potential mentors, ask questions to ensure their long-term commitment.
- Do they raise good questions? A good mentor will actively listen to you and assess where you stand. They must be creative in asking open-ended questions, further accelerating conversation. Remember, answers satisfy people’s understanding, but questions deepen them.
- Are they willing to have those hard, uncomfortable conversations? – A good mentor will hold you accountable for your actions and failures. You need someone who is willing to expose the truth, rather than guard your delicate feelings. Expectations can be attained if you are held accountable.
The right mentor can accelerate your personal and professional development; the wrong mentor can destroy it. Nevertheless, if you are detailed, prudent and purposeful in your evaluation of potential mentors, you can ensure advancement, growth, and success in your life. Someone once said, “you pay for consultants, not mentors” and I believe that this statement is spot-on. If you “purchased” a mentor, then they wouldn’t be truly committed to you. Likewise, you can’t earn a mentor but rather, you earn a mentor’s attention.
Therefore, work hard in all due diligence to identify a mentor in you own life. I hope these 10 questions will serve as a guide on your endeavor and that you will recognize the importance a mentor has upon personal growth. I’ve heard some say, “The teacher appears when the student is ready,” but I say the following is true; “The student appears when the teacher is ready.”