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It’s only now that I look back over the past 20 years that I realise just how many mentors i’ve had… They come in various personalities and stay for various lengths of time, but each have had their impact, good or bad.

What i want to cover in this article and help you to identify, is; The many forms that mentors come in, how they can help you, where to find them and what mentors get out of a relationship with you. It’s also important to mention that not all mentors are equal. So how do you tell the good from the bad?

By definition, a mentor is noted as being a “trusted counselor or guide”.

mentor who, because he is detached and disinterested, can hold up a mirror to us — P. W. Keve

A key word in the above phrase is “trusted”.  It’s a term that indicates there is a level of knowledge or a pre-existing relationship prior to mentor-ship. I often hear young people referring to celebrities or sportspeople as their mentor and I wonder how many of them tick all the right boxes……

GOOD MENTOR / BAD MENTOR

So, let’s discuss some key requirements of a good mentor

  • They have skills/knowledge that you one day hope to have
  • They communicate in an open way, offering their knowledge to you and listening to you
  • They have sufficient time for you
  • They allow you to come to your own conclusions after offering their experience
  • They are honest with you

You will notice that at no point did I mention friendship, like-mindedness or common interests. I’m a personal believer that in order to get the most out of a mentor/mentee relationship, there needs to be a level of professionalism, objectiveness and detachment. For this reason, I see someone with the opposite skill set to me as a very valuable person to learn from. The help you complete and “round out” your scope of knowledge.

Key warning signs of a bad mentor

  • They tell you what to do
  • They talk ALL the time without listening
  • They are often too busy and don’t value your time, cancelling at the last minute etc.
  • They are more interested in telling you stories to boost their ego than listening to you
  • They tell you that you are fabulous instead of being “real” with you

The consequences of choosing a bad mentor can lead to poor advice/decisions, not learning anything, frustration or a false sense of ability. I see bad mentors as the equivalent of “that” negative friend who secretly wants you to fail so they appear better than you. Nothing good can come from this.

WHO CAN BE MY MENTOR

Mentors can come in many shapes and sizes (so to speak….) Especially for high school students. People to look out for? Older sibling’s friends who are succeeding, parents friends / colleagues, local business owners engaged in mentor programs, coaches, extended family and of course teachers/career advisers.

If you are studying at University, you choices in mentor become more important still. Mentor programs are often available to you at this point and can be a great starting point but joining local business hubs/groups will open up your scope 10 fold. Your approach also becomes more important as you are expected to be more professional in your approach and know what you need to achieve from a mentor relationship. Start building your network and seeking people who have what you want. When you find a suitable match, there are a few approaches you can use. I will cover this at the end.

Early career mentors are often more senior people within your organisation. The more diverse an organisation you work at… the more opportunity you have to learn and encounter mentors with a different cross reference of skills. If you are lucky, you might still have access (and use for) your mentor from high school / uni, but not always. Your early career mentor might even be your boss. Try to be open to all possibilities in the workforce and show that you are worth mentoring. Also, remember… this is not dating and it is perfectly OK to have multiple mentors, each able to assist you in different ways!

Later career mentors are more like old friends (yes, I know a small contradiction to my earlier statement) but by now, you have hopefully developed a great network within your industry and a certain level of respect from your peers. By now you are thinking more strategically and need a mentor to help take your career to the next level. Again, it could be your boss or it could be an old uni lecturer, a career coach that you pay or an industry leader. At this stage in your career, you will likely be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and be more in tune with utilising a mentor who has strengths in your area of weakness.

HOW WILL THEY HELP ME?

Mentors only guide, share and help you clarify what you already know. They can point you in the right direction when lost and basically act as your knowledgeable side-kick. They can connect you with other useful contacts and advise you based on their previous experience. Mentors are a sounding board for ideas who can listen and help you come to your own conclusion. They are not someone who will do it for you or tell you what to do. That’s your mum!

AND WHAT DO THEY GET OUT OF THIS?

 Up until now, I’ve discussed the relationship in a very ‘one-sided’ view, explaining only what it’s like for the mentee. In this instance, I can only speak from my own experience. I have coached, trained and mentored many people over my career and currently volunteer with EMPOWER women at the University of Newcastle.

In every mentor relationship, I have found immense satisfaction in seeing someone else through to a positive outcome. I engage with this type of program because i enjoy it. But there is also the aspect of continual learning and being open to learning coming from ALL people. With each mentor relationship I have entered into, I have gained further knowledge and insight into new techniques/technologies, the psychology of people and tapped into a younger culture. It promotes the cycle of learning… What I learn, I pass on.

Good luck in your mentor quest!

INDIE’s resident blogger – Jac