One of my business school professor advised me that mentors are like board of directors for a company. They only assist the CEO but cannot(and should not) take decisions on CEO’s behalf. That stuck with me ever after. The good thing is, in your personal life mentors can’t fire you. You need them in personal and professional life to advice, assist and bring in some sanity. Without them you are a lone wanderer with no one to share your ideas or have intelligent discussions with. After working with many of my mentors, I have realized top 5 attributes you should look in a mentor.
- Honesty and Trustworthiness : If there is only one attribute that you can chose in your mentor, that would be Trustworthiness. You are essentially exposing all your strengths and weaknesses to your mentor so that he can guide you in the right direction. If you cannot trust your mentor, then there is a lot of hide and seek happens and the results may not be optimal. In addition, if your mentor is not honest enough, then he or she will not be effective in guiding your career. You do not want to have your mentor sugarcoat the message and decrease the impact of a conversation rather you want your mentor to bring in the right message even if it is painful.
- Time Commitment : In general, you would want to meet with your mentor every quarter with your progress report so he can guide your based on your pace. This requires good amount of time from your as well as from your mentor. If your mentor is missing the meetups constantly or requesting to have a phone conversation, then there is an issue. While everything is possible virtually, you are decreasing the effectiveness. There is absolutely no substitute for a face to face meetings with mentor. Remember that often times your mentor is also your promoter. If you cannot have a face time with him, its difficult to manage the relationship.
- Industry Connections : If you are an engineer, it’s not effective to have a doctor as the mentor. While there are some exceptions, generally speaking, you need the mentor to be within the same industry and possibly have inside industry connections. This helps you to nurture the right connections and advise to move ahead.
- Bridge the gap : The difference between a good mentor and name-sake mentor is that a good one takes time to understand your personality, skills, achievements, and your aspirations. This helps them build your profile and then draw some steps to bridge that gap from point A to point B. Even if you are self-critical, there is a need for the mentor to look at it from outside and provide good feedback (may not always be positive).
- Role model : Select a mentor who has seen the success and who you aspire to be. Mentor should be that role model in the professional life who you always wanted to be. This brings in enthusiasm and respect for that person. Also, there is a higher chance that you listen to that person rather than randomly selecting someone because they agreed to be your mentor. One of the common mistake people do is to consider this mentor as the role model for all aspects of life. Absolutely avoid not to mix up a role model in professional life with role model in personal life. They may or may not match.
Of course, having a mentor does not guarantee success. But that’s only a one important piece of the puzzle. We need to take advise from mentors, analyze and decide on what we want to execute. There are many times I did exactly opposite to what my mentors advised me. That’s not because I did’t like their advise, but because that’s the right thing for me to do. I never regretted that decision. Each time I do that, I do explain to my mentors why I did that. Remember always, you are the one who has to decide and walk the talk.