Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What To Look For In A Mentor.... How To Find A Mentor

So we've talked quite a lot about the importance of finding and working with a therapist, coach, or mentor.  Remember that Leadership is not a list of things we do or do not do... it is not remembering to appreciate, give credit, or build relationships.  We act like Leaders because of how we see ourselves, the world around us, as well as our relationship with that world.  If we see the world as an abundant place, where there is plenty to go around and enough for everyone, we are able to give credit, and surround ourselves with people who are better than we are.  If we see the world as a scary place, where there in not enough, where we have to fight for everything we have and get, then we will not be able to share, give credit, or work with people who might be better than we are.

So really, being a good Leader is about changing the way we see the world.  It's about losing our fears and prejudices, and living our lives with more love, concern, and consideration for those around us.  In order to act like Leaders, we need to be free to trust in others; give away credit; allow others the freedom to make mistakes; share information, and be transparent in everything we do.

There are those who would argue that we are born this way, however once we are in our late teens/twenties most of us are no longer in this place.  We are not always able to look at ourselves objectively and honestly.  Navigating middle school and high school, along with friendships and teenage angst, can teach us how to rationalize and justify our action.  We can find ourselves with a skewed view of the world around us; and see ourselves as we would like to be, rather than how we actually are.

In order to be effective and true Leaders, we need to work on self-awareness, and gain an accurate picture of how we are.  We need to stop rationalizing and justifying if we are to be honest and transparent with those we wish to Lead.  These habits are now ingrained, and not easy to break.  Please do not kid yourself and think that you are not like this, or that you can change yourself without any outside help.  It's almost impossible to get an accurate and honest picture of how we are without the help of an objective observer, who has our best interest at heart... a therapist, coach, or mentor.  

Talking to someone who is probably older, with much more experience can be intimidating, and scary.  So... some of you might agree that having someone to ask questions or bounce ideas off would be good, however you might hesitate to ask someone you don't know to be your mentor.  You might think that you will ask a friend or coworker, and that would be a mistake.

The job of mentor or coach includes telling us what we need to hear... disagreeing with us, and giving us an honest assessment of our decisions and behaviors.  Our friends or coworkers are generally not going to be able to do this for us, even with the best of intentions.  It takes a real commitment, and we must really care for someone in order to tell him or her what he or she doesn't want to hear but need to hear.  It takes emotional detachment that our friends or coworkers do not have.  If you are serious about being a better Leader, please do not try to use a friend or coworker as a coach or mentor.  Although these two terms can have different meanings, for this purpose I’m using them interchangeably. 

OK... We'll assume that you agree that you should have a mentor or coach... what about that therapist I mentioned a bit ago?  Well... 

If you think that most people have the wrong impression of you; if you regularly disagree with the feedback your boss gives to you; if you don't see any reason you would apologize for your behavior; you feel that there are very few people who are trustworthy; or if you find yourself often angry or frustrated with other people, you would probably benefit from working with a therapist.  If you read this blog, or other books or articles about Leadership and absolutely disagree with how to treat the people around you, you should seriously think about talking to a therapist, as opposed to a coach or mentor.

The difference between a therapist and a coach or mentor is that a therapist went to school specifically to help us get an understanding of why we do the things we do, as well as how to help us change the behaviors we want to change.  They have been trained to help people without getting emotionally involved, so they can see us and our view of the world, as well as our behaviors, from a detached and yet interested point of view.  In order to be the best Leaders we can be, we have to understand ourselves, and know why we do the things we do and don't do.  Therapists are trained to help us achieve this understanding, and are uniquely equipped to help us achieve our goals.

OK... so now that you know why you should have a mentor, coach, or therapist, you would probably like some ideas on how to choose the right coach or mentor.

The right mentor will have the kind of life and work that you would like to have.  You will have to decide exactly what this look like for yourself, and I suggest you find someone who values a decent work/life balance.

The right mentor is someone you are not sexually attracted to.

The right mentor will be someone who continues to learn and challenge him or herself.  Not someone with fixed views and opinions that cannot be challenged.  Someone who is closed minded is not likely to be able to give you what you need.

The right mentor should not be a reflection of you, however they should probably be enough like you that the two of you can easily understand one another.  If you are a real introvert, you might want to choose a mentor who is either somewhat introverted, or can demonstrate a good understanding of true introverts… non-introverts can have a hard time understanding true introverts.

The right mentor will want to know something about you… a very successful and busy mentor might only want to mentor people who they believe are on a good career track, with a great work history and recommendations.  Even if they aren’t this picky, they should show some interest in who you are, and how they will be able to benefit you.

The right mentor will be a good listener… they will listen to fully understand what you are saying, and how you feel about what you are saying before they answer you.  They will not interrupt you, unless you are being disrespectful, making excuses, or perhaps justifying/rationalizing your behavior.

The right mentor will have obvious Leadership qualities, like honesty, transparency, generosity, willing to extend trust, self-awareness, and self-discipline…  While we cannot expect our mentor to be perfect, there are a couple of qualities that we should not do without, like character, trust, and a positive attitude. 

Since you are already in a Leadership position, and you want to become the best Leader you can be, you should do your best to choose someone who is an actual Leader; who values Leadership qualities.  That means someone who is known to be emotionally intelligent, who does not micromanage, who extends trust, and who has developed other Leaders.  Some who has achievements that impress you.

The right mentor will be outside of your normal chain of reporting relationships.   So if you choose a mentor from your company, they might be someone with more experience in a position similar to yours, or in a higher position.  Just make sure that you let your boss know what you are doing, and that your mentor is not someone who your boss, or her boss answers to… that might be awkward. 

The right mentor should be someone you feel comfortable with… someone with whom you can be yourself.  You will have to be open and brutally honest with them, so you must be able to feel comfortable with them, and fully trust them.  The relationship should be respectful, and not be too formal.

The right mentor will push for you to get out of your comfort zones.  We love to stay with what we know and are comfortable with, and we often need to be pushed to try something new.  The right mentor will push us, as well as help us choose the right stretch goals, and help us prepare to be successful.

The right mentor will occasionally give you an answer, however most of the time they should be helping you figure things out for yourself.  You will learn less from a person who tells you what to do than you will from someone who helps you develop your own solutions.

Remember… very few people can teach us to be better than they are.  So, for example, if you choose someone with poor communication skills, they will probably not be of much help in developing your communication skills.  If they only have one go-to Leadership style, they will probably not be able to help you develop the ability to utilize a different style.

The right mentor will be open and honest about their own life, and share their failings and mistakes with you.  This makes them human, builds trust and a stronger relationship.  Everyone has a whole list of mistakes… if the person you have chosen doesn’t admit to any… well… perhaps it’s just a red flag.

Next, you’ll want to write down, yes write down your goals for this relationship.  What do you need help with?  In what ways will your mentor help you?  You’ve been reading along right?  So you know that self-awareness is one of the keys to being a good Leader, right?  You’ve been reading the books I’ve suggested, right? 

So you have a pretty good idea of what you need help with, and you put together a list.  This list will help you narrow down your choices, because you want to choose someone who’s strengths are some of your areas of improvement.  You should also write down your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your short and long-term goals.

So you’ll make a list of people you admire; people who are successful in your company; respected people in your community; respected colleagues; and perhaps a few people you don’t know personally yet, and respect and would like to get to know.  Now cross off any and all that you are attracted to.  It can be tempting to leave them on the list… don’t do it.

Now you have a narrowed down list of possible mentors.  It’s time to do some research… get on-line and find out everything you can about each of them.  Through this process you might end up crossing more off the list.  Make sure they have the same values that you do.  Their political or religious beliefs are generally not a concern, and you may have very strong beliefs that are important to match.

The final choice is yours of course… and you will want to prepare for your talk.  You have your list of what you would like to get from this relationship, and you know some things about them.  Now you need to write down why you chose them, and some questions specifically about what you need, and how they might help.

Ask if you can make an appointment to speak with them, and bring along your lists.  Tell them what you’ve been working on, and the books you’ve been reading.  Speak to the things you admire about them, why you believe they can help you, and ask if they would be willing to mentor you. 

When they say yes, you will have to determine how much time they are willing and able to commit to you.  They may be able to meet with you every week, and they might only be able to give you a couple of hours each month.  Depending on your needs, you might want to have a few mentors, or you might need to find someone who can give you more time. 

You will be able to find one or more people who are willing to mentor you… don’t worry.  In taking with them you will agree on schedules that work for both of you.  Respect your mentor’s time!  Be early, and be prepared.  You will need to be brutally honest with them if they are to help you… do not waste their time by withholding information or lying to them.  Not only will that destroy your relationship with them, but it will also hurt your career goals.

You will ask your new mentor what they expect from you in this relationship, and how you can best help them help you.  You are the one doing the work, and the one who needs the help, so you will be the driving force in deciding what you ask of your new mentor… you have a lot of responsibility. 

Remember, you are 100% responsible for your relationship with your mentor.  If things aren’t going as well as you thought, you need to rethink your role.  Are you being completely honest?  Are you making the most of the opportunity?  Are you listening to the advice your mentor gives you?  It’s the same as your relationship with your significant other… if there are problems with your relationship, look at your part.  It does not help to look at your partner and find fault in what they are doing… you cannot control what they do.  You can only control what you do, so it only makes sense to look at your part.  What are you doing to make your relationship what you want it to be?  Are you treating them the way you want to be treated… the way they deserve to be treated?

As always, if you disagree with any of this, or have any questions, please leave a comment.

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