I’d like to share with you the most important thing I have learned so far in my life:
You become what you focus on and like the people you spend time with.
In other words, whatever you fill your mind with and whomever you choose to surround yourself with will in large part determine what your life will look like a decade from now. Given this, one of the best choices you can make is to find a mentor or mentors to help you move in the right direction. Here are a few suggestions to get the most from such a relationship.
1. A successful mentoring relationship is all about the transfer of knowledge. Just because someone is super nice or well-connected does not make them a good mentor. To make the most of this relationship, you need to decide what you really want to learn then find a mentor who has successfully achieved what you are trying to accomplish.
2. Create clear expectations for the mentoring engagement. What, specifically, do you want mentoring in? How often will you meet? How long will each meeting be? What will your role be as the mentee? It is important to establish agreed-upon ground rules to ensure that the relationship is productive and focused.
3. This is not a casual relationship or friendship – it is work. The key to a successful mentoring relationship is commitment from both the mentor and mentee. For example, I get asked to mentor dozens of people each year. Once I determine what they want mentoring in, I assign them three books and tell them that when they have completed the books I’ll take them to lunch to discuss the books in detail and begin the mentoring relationship. This reading expectation typically deters 95 percent of the people who approach me. They simply are not willing to commit the time to read the books, which tells me I should not commit the time to mentor them.
4. It’s good to have multiple mentors. Mentoring isn’t like dating; you won’t make a mentor jealous if you have several others. It is completely acceptable, even wise, to identify three or four areas of your life where you’d like some guidance and find a mentor for each. The only restriction on the number of mentors is your ability to commit the time and energy necessary to fully engage with each.
5. Mentoring is not a one-way street. Although the bulk of the knowledge transfer is from mentor to mentee, it is also incumbent upon the mentee to add as much value as possible to the mentor. The first and most important way to do this is to be a highly committed mentee, but it is also a great idea to bring your mentors books, articles, ideas and connections that will assist them in areas where they want to learn and grow.
6. Establish an end-date. A mentoring relationship is not supposed to last forever. Once you have learned just about everything your mentor can share, you can still be friends, but the official relationship needs to come to a close. That way, you can move on to a new mentor who can share new information with you and your former mentor can accept a new mentee. The best way I know to accomplish a graceful exit is to set up the relationship for a maximum of only two, six-month intervals. If, after the first six months you both feel there are still things to work on, you can go another six months, but at the one-year mark it is time to call it a day.
As I look back over my career, I can say with total confidence that I would not have accomplished even half of what I have without the guidance and support of several key mentors. I can also say that some of my greatest satisfaction has been in returning the favor by mentoring others.