In my last blog I wrote about the benefits of having a mentor in ones life. Mentorship provides efficiency in an individual’s growth, provides a model for ones life, and assists in the long-term growth in making lasting changes. However, making sure you have the right mentor is also important. For the benefits of a mentoring relationship, you must ensure that the relationship is the right one for you and what it is you hope to get out of having a mentor. It is also important to understand you are asking this person to give you their time and energy. You must make sure you are first committed to being mentored prior to proactively seeking out a mentor. Once you make that commitment, consider the following when choosing the person who you want to mentor you.

Know what you want, first
First you need to figure out what you want to get from a mentor. What are your short-term and long-term goals? What skills do you need to attain those goals now and in the future? Understanding the answers to these questions is important because it will determine who can best meet your needs. Is it someone who has already gotten to the top of his or her profession as an executive or would you better benefit from someone who is a little closer to where you are now?

Are they respected and consulted by others?
You want to make sure that the person you choose is a person whom others already seek counsel from either formally or informally. Many people who are mentors do so in an informal way because others seek them out. Their opinion is important to others. Do your own background check, particularly if you do not know them very well or have not known them very long. Ask others who may have known this person longer about their opinion of the individual. You are not looking for skeletons in a persons closet but you do want to know who you are taking a risk on if you go forward.

Open, honest and can diagnose.
You want to ensure that you are not engaging someone who is your cheerleader but rather someone who has your best interest in mind and is willing to say things that may not be easy to hear. You want to make sure that your mentor is trying to help you become the best you. Sometimes formal mentors are looking at recreating themselves. The person you want will help you create the best YOU. They should have the ability to listen to what you say, help diagnose your needs, and be honest even when it may not be what you want to hear. Good mentors know how to inspire others; great mentors inspire others while being completely honest.

Are they relational?
Good mentors know how to cultivate relationships. They attract people because they know how to treat people. Good mentors know how to both talk and listen. Sit back and watch your potential mentor and observe not only how they treat upper level executives but also how they treat service people such as administrative assistants, custodians and waiters and waitresses. These interactions are the true character indicators. You want someone who can be a role model of service.

Once you have determined the right person for you, engage them in a simple conversation. Ask them for their opinion on some matter or to give you feedback on a project on which you are working. Just blurting out that you want them to be your mentor may be off-putting and scary. My experience has taught me that when asked to be a mentor, many walls come up initially around their own worthiness, time commitments, and fear of letting the person asking down. My advice is to first start building the relationship and somewhere further down the line formalize it. Many of my greatest mentoring relationships started first with simple engagement. This period of time allows you to show that you respect their time, their opinions, and that you are willing to make an effort at building a lasting mentoring relationship.

Tim Geels – Senior Vice President of Instruction