Written By Donald McNaughton

‘The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.’ — Steven Spielberg

Have you had the good fortune of having at least one mentor that has had a significant impact on your career and you as a person?

A survey of 3,000 fully employed Americans from twenty-one industries showed that 76% considered mentors to be important, while less than half had a mentor. Research has shown that people with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and experience better work-life balance.

The survey also showed that of those people with mentors, 61% of the relationships happened naturally, 25% resulted from an offer by the mentor, and 15% of the time, the mentee asked for mentorship.

I generally encourage people to be proactive rather than waiting for things to happen naturally or waiting for someone to ask them. Interesting to see that only 15% of the time, the mentee initiated the mentoring relationship.

Taking the initiative and seeking out a mentor can be challenging, especially if you have not had a mentor before; here are some guidelines to follow as you navigate the journey to mentorship.

Step one is to define and document your goals and what kind of support you need. Depending on your needs, help can come in different forms.

A sponsor is someone with social and political capital that they can use to help you achieve a goal.

A connector is someone that can connect individuals to create relationships. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes connectors as multipliers who help develop relationships.

A coach is someone who helps improve your performance in a specific area.

A mentor is someone who takes a more holistic approach in helping you fulfill your true potential. Their focus is on mentoring you as a person extending beyond the typical career and skills-based coaching.

So with your goals and support needs documented, you should determine the kind of help you need at this time. Do you need a mentor, or do you need a sponsor, connector, or a coach?

You may need more than one of these types of help, and one person may be able to provide more than one kind of help but understanding your needs is essential as you progress to step two.

If you decide that a mentor is the support you need, step two is to write a description of your ideal mentor. This mentor profile should describe how you believe they can help you achieve the goals you documented in step one and how mentoring will help you contribute to something bigger than yourself.

Step three is to search for mentors that likely meet the mentor profile you have created. Be creative and use any channel at your disposal; mentors that fit your profile could come from anywhere. Keep in mind that most people consider being asked to be a mentor a compliment. Finding the correct mentor for you is vital; this is not about getting a mentor; it is securing the right mentor for you. Be aware that people at the top of your field may not necessarily be the right mentor for you. A good approach can be to look for mentors that you can see yourself becoming; they are more likely to be a good match for you.

Now that you have identified some possible mentors’ step four is to reach out to them. Ask each person for an initial conversation to learn more about them and for them to get to know more about you.

Step five is to decide who you would like to have as your mentor. Reach out to them and schedule a meeting. The goal of this meeting is to confirm that the person is the right mentor for you and that they are open to the idea of being your mentor.

Step six is to begin the mentoring relationship; it is a good idea to start slowly, with the first meeting being a follow-up to your previous session and discussing how best to communicate and ensure that the time invested in the relationship will be well utilized.

Step seven is to formalize your agreed-upon approach and the desired outcomes from the mentorship. A simple one-pager can help solidify the desired results and each person’s accountabilities.

Step eight is to continue to follow up after each meeting with a thank you note and agreed to action items. Stay in touch even after the formal mentoring relationship has ended. Remember ‘gratitude is the best attitude.

Being a mentor can be a very fulfilling experience; it often brings purpose and satisfaction to the mentor. It does, however, take effort, time, and careful thought to be effective.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have three generous mentors in my career.

Dave Simpkins gave me my first job as a training consultant. I was fresh out of the air force and advertising school with no work experience. Dave took a chance on me, somehow seeing my potential as a trainer and educator. I worked for Dave for almost my entire career in South Africa; in that time, Dave taught me the practical fundamentals of planning and ERP systems, but more importantly, Dave showed me by example how to be of service to others. Simon Sinek wrote a book called ‘Leaders Eat Last’; Dave epitomized this book’s message; his instinct was to always take care of others before himself.  Dave was an excellent first mentor, and I am eternally grateful to Dave for all the opportunities he gave me at the start of my career.

Al Kauth (retired) was the person that opened my eyes to the next level of professional services. As an international vice president for Buker, Al would visit South Africa periodically and conduct education and consulting events for South African companies with whom we were working. The first time I saw Al present, I was mesmerized. It started with the American accent but quickly became more about Al’s ability to communicate the principles engagingly and interestingly with stories and sage advice. On Al’s visits to South Africa, I was fortunate to spend time with him outside work hours; I would pepper Al with questions, which he would patiently answer. We struck up a friendship and stayed in touch. To keep a long story short, Al moved his affiliation from Buker to Oliver Wight, eventually resulting in me joining Oliver Wight and moving to the USA. The impact that Al has had on my life professionally and personally is immense and deeply appreciated.

Almost immediately after joining Oliver Wight, I had the opportunity to work alongside George Palmatier (retired) conducting an education session for a client. I had read George’s book ‘The Marketing Edge’ before joining Oliver Wight, so I was already intimidated before meeting George. Here I was sitting in the back of the room while George was presenting and again being mesmerized. The eloquence George displayed as he explained the materials left me thinking, ‘how am I ever going to be able to reach this standard of excellence? As I got to know George better, I learned that George’s compassion and desire to help others matched his business skills and knowledge. I have been the beneficiary of George’s generosity; I am proud to call him my mentor and dear friend (probably more like family than a friend). George has invested hundreds of hours over the years in sharing his knowledge with me and answering what must seem like my endless stream questions.

Dave, Al, and George, you have all been incredible mentors to me, and I will be eternally grateful for your investment in me and my family’s life. I work hard every day to try and honor your investment in me and pay it forward.

I will end with a quote from the late Clayton Christensen ‘The only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people.’