In a recent discussion with a protegee, she revealed a very disturbing past experience that fundamentally impacted her life at many levels, and mostly in negative ways. This person, let's call her Mary, was studying filmmaking and was receiving mentoring help from a well-known writer on scriptwriting. Mary had always received very positive feedback and commentary on her writing from a variety of people, including the mentor, and felt confident about her ability to write and do it well. Initially, the advice and guidance she received from her mentor was helping her challenge herself, understand her goals and what was driving her to create. Then, completely unexpectedly, her mentor told her that her script was terrible (but not why, or how to fix it) and that she was wasting her time and the mentor's time with her writing. Devastated by this feedback from someone she had respected up to that point, Mary had lost the person that was supposed to be there helping her grow and develop. Why the mentor did what they did was unclear, but it was traumatic to Mary. She withdrew, and it took her many years to even consider writing again, and even more before she tried. With support and guidance from a new mentor she emerged from the creative wasteland and is now back to creating and providing joy and pleasure to those that read her work.
Having good mentors is critical for success in your personal growth and career development. That has been demonstrated over and over. The question is not should you have a mentor, it is how do you go about selecting the right mentor?
How do you find good mentors? What questions should you ask? How do you choose?
The questions you need to ask yourself are "What do I need to get from my mentor? What are my goals? What do I need help with?" Maybe you don’t have clear answers to these basic questions. That is okay. The key is understanding why you want a mentor and what you need them to provide guidance on. Once you have clarity about why, then you can more easily find the best match in a mentor.
When looking at a mentor, you want to make sure your mentor is as excited about learning and developing as you are. As I wrote in the previous blog post on the difference between coaching and mentoring, mentoring is a mutually beneficial process where both the mentor and protege are learning from the process. Great mentors are also those who gain pleasure and satisfaction from helping you learn, grow and succeed. They are cheering you on (albeit quietly) and feel rewarded by your success. Ask how they work with proteges, what they will expect from you, and what you can expect from them.
Identify people you respect for their work, or maybe are referred by someone you trust. Try to find several potential mentors. Then interview them. Do not be afraid to ask how they work, what brings them satisfaction, and how they will measure the progress of being your mentor. During that initial interview determine if you respect the mentor and how they make you feel. Can you see building a strong trust relationship with this person? You are going to be sharing some very personal goals and asking for advice about potentially life-changing, or at least career-defining choices. You must be able to have open and honest communication. If you feel reticence, ask more questions. Try to find out why you feel that way. Once you have talked to all the candidates, make your choice and understand you are making a commitment that will change you life. It will have a similar impact on the mentor - whatever you choose will change their life as well.
A good mentor will help you achieve and exceed your goals, as well as your expectations for yourself. Choosing the wrong mentor can be devastating. Just ask Mary.