What to Do When Mentorless – 4 Practices to Create a Mentor

By October 22, 2012Generations

What to do when mentorlessI never had a mentor, but I survived.

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.

What I did learn in my mentorless world is there are other ways to create a mentor. I created my “Harvey(A reference for all you Jimmy Stewart fans out there!).

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?

Being a good conversationalist is a mix of asking good questions and listening well.

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?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Munazza Arif says:

    This is the great piece of advice and a way which every person should follow……these 4 PRACTICES are 4 KEYPOINTS of spending one’s life in a sophisticated way ……previously analysed by me are now confirmed and well explained so thanks alot.

  • Emelia Sam says:

    I often think about this…if it’s absolutely necessary. Thing is, I can’t even think of who I would want to mentor me and in what direction. However, I instinctively follow the four points you’ve outlined and they’re working in the meantime. Good post.

  • Hi Jon,
    Wow, can so relate to this – it’s like seeing the words in my head on paper!
    I have been a mentor for about 20 years and since going self employed have been trying to find one for myself for the past few years with no success!
    I like the concept of ‘creating a mentor’ – practice 1,2,3 and never thought of 4 in that way – though now I will.
    What I would add – develop, trust and use your intuition…your gut instincts are usually right. Wrote a blog on this:
    Thank you for sharing

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Vera, and great insights on “leading with your gut.” That is an important element to rely on as well. It is an easy one to overlook. Appreciate the added insight to this conversation! Jon

  • Alice Chan says:

    Jon, thanks for this great post with very practical insights. I especially love the first 3 practices you outlined, and practice them myself for “ad hoc” mentoring needs/opportunities. There really is an abundance of wisdom and insightful help all around us, whether in books or people who draw into our lives because they have just the right things to teach us in just the right time that we’re ready to learn them. I’d also add that, personally, my inner wisdom is a pretty great mentor. When I allow myself to get away from ego trappings and shift my consciousness to listen from within, the right action/solution always emerges–including seeking the right help and mentoring sometimes! Thanks again, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Alice for your feedback and insights! I like the addition of our “inner wisdom.” This is an important source to tap and listen to in an open and complete way. Appreciate it! Jon

  • Randy Conley says:

    Great insights Jon. I had never considered those ways to create a “mentor” but they make perfect sense.
    Take care,

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