In our journey of personal growth as leaders, sometimes we are blessed to meet people who have walked the path before us and gone farther than we have. Sometimes these people are willing to help us, if we will reach out to them.
We call them our mentors.
What qualifies a person to be a mentor? And are there different kinds of mentors? I have written several articles in the past about mentors, and you will find links to them throughout this post. But I have not talked about the different types before. And I am eager to share how each type of mentor can add something unique to our lives. Before I share the four types, I want to summarize the main principles regarding finding and learning from mentors.
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- Here are criteria that potential mentors must have:
- Here is one way to ask someone to be your mentor, in the area of public speaking, for example. ?John you have clearly done a lot of learning in the area of public speaking. Would you be willing to mentor?me in that area??
- As a general rule, don?t take on more than two mentors at a time.
- Having mentors should be a growth discipline?just do it.
- Set up a certain number of sessions with them from the beginning, as opposed to an indefinite amount of time. A usual frequency is once a month for three to six months. Upon completion, if you both wish to continue, you can plan additional?sessions going forward.
- Ask people to mentor you on very specific topics, not to be a general mentor. It will condition you to be cognizant of?people’s strengths, and you will benefit from focused teaching in a particular area of interest.
- It does not matter if they are younger than you. Just look?for is someone who is ahead of you in certain areas.
- Offer to pay them for their time. If you can only afford one hour of their time, so be it. Some will accept the offer, some will refuse it. Be generous with your teachers.
- Always be on the lookout for a mentor. At work, at church, while attending a conference, or simply shopping at a store: always have your?mentor antennae?up.
- If you don?t prepare beforehand and study afterward, the benefits of mentorship are extremely limited.
- As I have shared in a previous post?about coaches and mentors, a mentor is different from an executive coach, in that a coach typically focuses on?asking you powerful questions, and refrains from offering you advice.
- You can learn from almost anyone, but what you are looking for specifically in a mentor is a person who has dug deep, and discovered a lot more than the rest of us in one or several areas. A mentor is a person who has traveled farther than you in a particular area of life, someone who will give you advice, teach you principles, and share the life lessons and best practices that they have adopted and proven.
- They must care about me.
- They must like to help and teach.
- They must have traveled farther than me.
Now, that you have been introduced to the main principles of mentorship, let me tell you about the different types of mentors. This is important to know, so you can understand which is the best fit at different junctures in your growth journey. I could recommend any of these four types of mentors. They can all add value to your life in a variety of ways. Since each one can offer different advantages, it is helpful to know exactly what you are looking for.
Type 1: Great Teacher;?Prominent in Their Field
This person has not only traversed great advances in their career, but they have also taken the time to contemplate how they did it. They probably already do a lot of teaching, speaking, or writing?or maybe, just thinking. When you ask them a question, they will tell you, ?Three ways to do this are?? or, ?The top reason I?ve done it this way is?? In other words, they have thought through their successes and failures. And they have observed and categorized principles and truths. This type of mentor is ideal because they have achieved much; they have credibility; and they have internalized how principles have worked for them. Because of their prominence in their field, they can also open doors for you. While this may be an ideal person to mentor you, you should know that they are more difficult to find.
Type 2: Poor Teacher; Prominent?in Their Field
I have had the chance to be mentored by people in very high positions who have not always been able to easily articulate the principles that have made them successful. Learning from this type of mentor will increase the demand on you to prepare specific questions in advance. You must try to intentionally draw from them what they did to achieve success. Though this type of mentor is often not the most eloquent, a mentor who holds a very high position (like CEO of large organization) will have the credibility that can often open doors for you as I also mentioned about the Type 2 mentor.
Type 3: Great Teacher; Less Prominent in Their Field
Aristotle was Alexander the Great?s teacher. Now, Aristotle was never a king or an emperor, but he helped Alexander become a successful leader. Similarly, you see writers like Jim Collins, author of outstanding books on business, who’ve never run a hugely successful organization like GE, for example. But he can write profound books about effective business principles, arguably better than the leaders of leading organizations, because he has given himself to great study. Both Aristotle and Jim Collins are examples of mentors who can really spell it out for you. Just be aware that these mentors have done a lot of their learning by observation, rather than from living it out themselves. Having said that, I would love to have Aristotle or Jim Collins mentor me!
Type 4: Knows a System; Less?Prominent in Their Field
This person has mastered a system he has learned from a well-known school of thought. For example, a person who is certified to teach The DISC System, or the Dale Carnegie Leadership Program. This person may be a twenty year old who has not done much leading themselves, or a fifty year old who has just learned a new way of thinking, through a certified system. The advantage to learning from such a mentor is that they can lean on a system that has been proven. The disadvantage is that they don?t always have real life experience to back it up.
Actionable item: Always be on the lookout to meet people who could potentially be a mentor to you. ??Remember these four types of mentors, and the areas in which you want to grow. Select the one who can help you most.
About me: I am a board member of a local chamber music organization called Hall Ensemble. If you live in the Fort Worth, Texas area, I encourage you to check out their website and attend one of their concerts. They specialize in home performances?a unique way to connect with the music and the musicians.
For Further Reading: