I wanted one. I just never connected with the right person to serve as a continuous sounding board and guiding presence. I had plenty of people I learned from and still do, but it isn’t the same as having a mentor.
My imagination of what a mentor really looked like was someone I would meet with once a month. We would have coffee or lunch and discuss what was happening in work and life. He would offer his past experiences as a guide for what to do or avoid. He would challenge and hold me accountable. He would be someone to go through certain events with and learn together. He would be a sounding board.
Maybe this is too idealistic, or these types of mentors don’t really exist. Either way, this is what I imagined.
Here are four practices I developed to create my own mentoring way.
Read deeply. It is good to read. In this case, it is more. It is about selecting a character you admire and dive in with multiple books written by this person or about this person. Through this practice, we gain more insights and added guidance as we learn more about their life, challenges, opportunities, skills, and strategies.
For me, one such character is Theodore Roosevelt. His energy is contagious. His love of life is appealing. His ability to embrace any challenge is inspiring. I have more books written by and about Theodore Roosevelt than most libraries or even historians. By reading multiple books, he has served as a mentor by what he did and how he did it.
Develop keen observer traits. Observing others is a great ability to develop. By watching how others address opportunities, handle the big challenges, and work through problems with people delivers a great deal of knowledge and insight.
Observing others is as much about learning what to do as it is to learn what not to do. We have the luxury of understanding their successes and mistakes, with little cost to us.
Be a good conversationalist. People like to talk about themselves. A fact of life. This sets up an opportunity to ask many questions about their experiences and insights. It is not forcing questions upon people or prying into their life. It is about discussing how they got to where they are and what challenges they worked through to get there. How did they handle successes? How did they work through mistakes?
Watch for accountability moments. Accountability plays a huge role in life and leadership. We need to be held accountable for our choices and actions. Family and friends will hold us accountable, but a mentor adds a different, needed dimension. Without one, the best way to improvise is through news articles and other current stories we read in which people get caught.
It is not about how or why the person got caught. It is about what happens afterwards. From Tiger Woods to Michael Vick to Lance Armstrong to many others, we see their lives upset, families split, and a rough redemption road ahead.
How this holds us accountable is by understanding the impact of poor choices and actions. In many ways, it serves as a wake-up call as to why we need to continue to strive to make the best choices possible and take the most appropriate actions possible. Seeing what happens when we don’t serves as a solid reminder.
Our newspapers offer a continuous source of these stories each month. We need to take them to heart in our own work.
Maybe not the ideal mentor, but it works.
Finding the right mentor can be an unbelievable gift. However, if it doesn’t happen, there are other ways to make it happen. My hope is these four practices can help fill the mentor gap in a meaningful way.
Add your insights and experiences.
What practices would you add to building mentor practices when mentorless?