The concept of mentorship dates back to almost the beginning of time.
Socrates mentored and molded the mind of Plato, who mentored and molded the mind of Aristotle, who is credited with molding the minds of the human race. (More or less.)
Of all the profound lessons we can take away from three of the most incredible minds that have ever lived, it’s possible that one of their most universal teachings wasn’t something they wrote down but something that they lived: mentorship and accountability.
Why are goals easier to accomplish with a mentor?
I’m sure there are many studies, philosophies, and psychologies that explore and answer this question. But for me, it comes down to a basic truth: we’re not meant to be alone. Even for an introvert like me, I like knowing that someone is looking out for me.
Especially someone who has been here before and is notably smarter than I am–which a mentor should be. More than that, though, I need someone who has eyes on my blind spots–the qualities holding me back that I am blissfully unaware of.
When you’re hunting for the right blind spot corrector, there are a few key qualities to keep in mind that will make a mentorship blossom into the kind of life experience that is both formative and helpful.
First things first, a mentor is different from a role model. Role models are awesome, and you should have a handful. Role models are people you aspire to be like and strive to emulate. They can be people you know, like your mom or sibling or boss; or they can be people you don’t know, like celebrities or historical figures.
A mentor, however, is an active part of your formation. Unlike role models, who only affect you in passing actions–that is to say, they don’t keep you in mind whether you want to be like them or not–mentors have your best interest at the forefront of your relationship.
A mentor can be someone whom you want to be like, but it is also someone who you have at least marginal access to that can give you direct advice on how to do it.
Think of it this way: a role model would be a baseball player. You can watch him play, mimic his moves and watch every game. But there’s no guarantee that you could ever learn the craft just from that. A mentor, in contrast, would be the coach. This is a person who pays specific attention to your needs, assets, and opportunities for growth and uses them to form you into an all-star.
Be upfront with someone in your life that you admire. Make intentional steps to start a relationship by asking questions or seeking counsel. If you feel like this could be a viable option, ask that person if they’re willing to be your mentor.
Not only does the mentor need to be on board, but so do you. You need to be a pliable participant who is willing to be molded. It’s one thing to want something. It’s an entirely different thing to actually take that on.
I want to lose weight, but the journey has been long because I have not wanted to put in the hours it takes. Just because you realize the merits of a mentor doesn’t mean you will be open to one when the time comes. Because their role is to help you grow by challenging you–and that can be tough.
Which brings me to the next quality . . .
The more you talk with your mentor, the better communication will get. But be honest and direct about the kind of feedback you respond to, and if you have questions about the advice you’re being given, ask them.
If you are not honest with your mentor, they cannot be honest with you. Likewise, the more transparent you are, the more effective leadership you’ll get. Confide in your mentor. Tell him or her your goals, your hopes, and what you want from your life so that they can help you achieve it.
Decide together the type and frequency of communication you think is appropriate, and be willing to adapt as life changes. I used to work down the hall from my mentor, and would be in his office nearly daily asking for insights and getting advice. Now that I have moved, our communication has changed but the shift was natural and reflects new goals.
Mutual Understanding and Openness
I cannot express the importance of being open.
Being the recipient of concentrated leadership is a double-edged sword. While many of us (I’d say all of us, honestly) can benefit from constant evaluation, it’s a difficult thing to invite someone into the weakest part of yourself–whether that is your craft, your professional skill set, or your personal growth–and let them challenge it.
Why I have a Mentor
I think I can sum up the effectiveness of having what I consider my goal accountability buddy in one story.
I am not historically a good team player. One of my greatest strengths is also one of my greatest downfalls–taking charge. Despite being aware of my own bossy nature, this blind spot still existed: my team members did not approach me with conflict. It caused animosity on my team but I could not figure out why or how to solve it. I brought it to my mentor, who told me: “You say things with such finality that no one feels like they can say anything to the contrary.”
The first words out of my mouth were argumentative: “But they can. They just won’t. That’s not my problem.” He gently assured me that it was, in fact, my problem and advised me that when a team-related issue arose, instead of proposing an immediate solution, ask the team an open-ended question first. Give them the chance to form opinions and talk before I could.
So I tried it. And it went a little something like this:
Me: We shouldn’t do that [expletive] thing! . . . [abrupt pause] . . . but what do you think we should do, Teammate?
Teammate: Well . . .
And she gave her answer! My horrible delivery aside, this was an effective piece of advice and insight. The fact that I struggled so hard to integrate it into my daily life only served as further proof to me that I needed it badly.
Embrace Your Blind Spots
As unique as our skill sets are, so too are our weaknesses. The characteristics or behaviors that we are unaware of can be (and often are) to our detriment. A mentor will not only recognize those blind spots, but take care to change and transform them into strengths.
With the right leader at the helm, you can exceed your goals and achieve a better version of yourself overall.
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