What Makes A Good Mentor?

The trouble with advice is that you can’t tell if it’s good or bad until you’ve taken it.

As I outlined last week, successful people are smart enough to know they need mentors. They know there’s always more to learn and more ways to improve, and so they seek out mentors. But successful people are also humble enough to learn from their mentors.

But you may be thinking, “I don’t have a mentor. What should I look for?” I would recommend the following.

=> 1. Look for a mentor who is responsible TO… but not responsible FOR… you.

So many people get those two dynamics mixed up and cause more harm than good. Let me explain.

Being responsible FOR someone means that you put his issues on your back. You try to solve his problems for him, or at the very least you feel sorry for him.

I see it in lots of parents today. When their kid gets in trouble by their own accord, some parents jump in with unwarranted support and sympathy, saying or thinking such things as, “Oh my little Johnny wouldn’t do anything wrong. I t must be that other kid’s fault or that teacher’s fault.” And then they coddle their kid with, “You poor little dear. I feel so badly for you.”

Parents like that — or people like that — don’t help the other person learn and grow. They don’t let the other person work on solving his problems, develop a sense of responsibility, or build his character. As long as they let or encourage the other person to blame someone else or something else for his problems, the other person will never grow beyond his problems.

By contrast, a mentor is responsible TO the other person. He listens, cares, coaches, and helps his mentee — but he lets the mentee work it out. After all, it’s his life, his career, his relationship, or his problem.

Pat Shotwell from the US Army is one of my “Tuesday Tip” subscribers. He told me about how he helped a colleague turn his life around by being responsible TO him. Pat said this particular colleague was always whining about not fitting in at the office — that no one liked or accepted him.

Pat refused to show any sympathy and did not try to “fix” things for his colleague. Instead, he confronted him and said, “There are enough victims in this world without you being one of them. Most of our problems are of our own making, or at the very least we have contributed to them.” In other words, Pat was forcing his colleague to think, “Instead of whining about your problem, what are you going to do about it?”

Then Pat told his colleague, “You shouldn’t make sounds like a bait fish if you’re swimming with sharks, or they will have you for lunch. If you talk like prey and act like prey, they’ll treat you as such.” Pat didn’t get suckered into the trap of joining his colleague and talk about the big bad meanies at work. Instead, as a responsible mentor, he challenged his mentee to stand up for himself.

You should be so fortunate as to have a mentor like Pat Shotwell, a mentor that is responsible TO you, a mentor that challenges you to be your very best. After all, what you don’t need is someone taking responsibility FOR you, feeling sorry FOR you, or trying to solve your problems FOR you.

Then in your search for a mentor…

=> 2. Look for a mentor that has some relationship skills.

You may have one mentor in life, but chances are you will have several. You may have a mentor that guides you through the technical aspects of your job, and you may have others for financial, physical, or spiritual issues. Whatever the focus of the mentoring, you’ll learn a lot more if your mentor has some relationship skills as well. You’ll feel more comfort in his/her presence, and you’ll be more open with your needs.

One sign outlined the ideal mentor-mentee relationship this way. It read:

I want to: Appreciate you without judging, Join you without invading, Invite you without demanding, Leave you without guilt, Criticize you without blaming, And help you without insulting.

If I can have the same from you, then we can truly meet and Enrich each other!

Years ago, it was AT&T, I think, that had the advertising slogan of “Reach out and touch someone.” That’s what a mentor does, and if he/she does it with some caring and some relationship-building ability, the results can be outstanding.

It’s kind of like a life-saving hug… although mentors and mentees may never hug each other. It’s like the story of Kyrie and Brielle Jackson who were born on October 17, 1995, at the Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Worcester. Each of the twins weighted all of two pounds at birth and were each in their respective incubators, but one was not expected to live.

Though Kyrie was putting on a bit of weight in the days following her arrival, her sister, Brielle, was not doing as well. She cried a great deal, leaving her gasping and blue-faced.

Kyrie was having a particularly bad day. Newborn Intensive Care Unit nurse Gayle Kasparian tried everything to calm Brielle. She held her. She had her dad hold her. She wrapped her in a blanket. She suctioned her nose.

Nothing worked.

Then she remembered hearing about a procedure done in Europe where twins were placed together in the same incubator, however, this was against Massachusetts Memorial Hospital’s rules. Knowing that the one twin had little time to live, she put Brielle in the incubator with her sister Kyrie contrary to the hospital’s rules.

The healthier twin Brielle snuggled up next to Kyrie and put her arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. Almost immediately the smaller baby’s heart rate stabilized and her temperature rose to normal. Her blood-oxygen saturation levels soared, which had been frighteningly low. She began to breathe more easily.

The frantic crying stopped and her normal pinkish color quickly returned. Over the next weeks, her health improved steadily in her new, less lonely quarters. The children survived their rocky beginning and in time went home with their parents. When last heard from, Brielle and Kyrie were healthy preschoolers.

Good mentoring works like that. It feels like a warm embrace as well as an encouragement to grow.

Finally, once you find a good mentor, there are a couple of things you need to do to build the relationship.

=> 3. Treasure your access to your mentor.

Don’t take that access lightly. He may not always be there. Others will want or need his wisdom. And your mentor also has a life.

So face the fact you will have to face some battles alone. That means you had better listen and listen well when you do have access to your mentor.

=> 4. Treasure any invitation to be alone with your mentor.

When others are around, it changes the flow of information. When I’m alone with one of my mentors, I receive much more than I do when others are present. The wisdom, the knowledge, the information, the coaching is more specific. It’s tailored just for me. But when others are present the conversation becomes a lot more chit-chat.

Make sure you don’t miss any chances to be one-on-one with your mentor. It’s during those times that you will grow the most.

Action:  Invite someone to be your mentor in a particular area of your life. You may want someone to mentor you in leadership, communication, or relationship skills. You may want someone to coach and guide you to better health — physically, financially, or spiritually. If he/she is willing to mentor you, set up a time to get together to start the process.