Growing up, many of us were told to listen to the counsel of our grandparents, those before our time. For they possessed something more valuable than anything of monetary worth, they wore the wrinkles, scars, and peppered hair of life experienced. Today, as we are finishing our degrees, changing our careers, transitioning within life, and developing our businesses, we must not abandon this early-taught principle, the significance of mentorship. Here is a 4-step guide to mentorship, beginning through defining what a mentor looks like to becoming a mentor over time.
1. What's a mentor? What qualities should I look for in a mentor?
Greek in origin, the word “mentor” finds its roots in the 8th-century classic, The Odyssey. Homer, whom many would call "the teacher of the Greeks," introduces a character by the name “Mentor," whom would serve as an adviser to Odysseus’s young son in his absence. As an adviser, he was entrusted to provide guidance and wisdom to the developing young man, thus the modern definition of a mentor being someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. In other words, a mentor is simply someone, usually but not necessarily older, who can share his or her knowledge in a particular field or about life in general for their mentee’s advancement. While guidance is pertinent, not all guidance is in the right direction. Therefore, once one understands what a mentor’s role is, it is just as important to pinpoint the right qualities within someone that will make them a suitable mentor.
Transparent: Isn't afraid to share with you not only their successes but also their failures.
Honest: Tells you the truth in a direct manner; doesn’t feed you a fairytale.
Generous: Gives a lot where they can whether in money, time, or resources.
Encouraging: Uplifts yet pushes you further than you even knew you were capable of going.
Opaque: Only share with you, their success stories.
Dishonest: Tells you what you want to hear, even at your own expense.
Stingy: Only gives when it benefits them in some way or fashion.
Discouraging: Uplifts you at times, but ultimately never intend to push you in a direction that surpasses their successes.
2. How to find a mentor?
More often than not, the right mentor will find you, but in desperate times one must take control him/herself. Start by looking at your close circle, not family members, but people outside of your family who have always taken an interest in you. Aside from immediate family, it’s easier to find generosity and transparency from people who view you as family than complete strangers. If no one in that close circle fits the bill, ask yourself “Who is someone I admire in my field or life?” The importance here is to be realistic. One may admire Oprah, but realistically, the likelihood of actually reaching her is low. For many, the answer to this question is a boss or someone at a higher level within the company or organization that you are a part of. Someone you respect immensely, wish to learn from, and have already experienced what you are about to go through or are in the process of going through.
3. Approaching someone to be your mentor.
Principle: Mentorships aren’t always direct and straightforward.
Translation: Most times, mentorships happen naturally and don't require you to outright ask someone to be your mentor. It's just understood.
As you are courting potential mentors, this is one vital principle to keep in mind. There are a lot of conflicting theories regarding whether one should let it grow organically through devotion and attentiveness, or inorganically by sitting someone down and directly asking them to take on the role. However, the truth always lies somewhere in the middle. Once you’ve chosen a good candidate, if there isn’t already a solid foundation there, build one. Just as with any friendship or relationship, take the time to learn about them as they also learn about you. Work hard and put in extra time/effort with this person, showing your diligence and dedication. Now, in order to establish a foundation of character and authentic friendship, take the time to explain what it would mean for them to serve as a mentor in your life. Share what you’ve seen exemplified in their work/life that you wish to duplicate. Share your passion for your field, and where you're looking to go with their assistance. Share what you hope they can give you in the mentorship and what you can give to them. More often than not, no matter how busy and convoluted their life is, they will say yes.
4. Pay it forward.
After following steps 1-3, you should be well on your way to growth and evolution within your life, field, business, etc., using the advice and knowledge of your mentor to push you to new heights and beginnings. Keep in mind, the importance of passing that knowledge on to next student, transitioning professional, retiree, and entrepreneur. Remembering that you were them years, months, and weeks ago. As author and philanthropist, Germany Kent says, “If you're not reaching back to help anyone then you're not building a legacy.”
Overall, mentorship is a pivotal key to success at any level and in any field. It doesn’t belong to a generation or age group, and as highlighted, it is a concept that will continue to stand the test of time. Although the spotlight may only emphasize the product of the process, the real beauty lies in the relationships built.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as legal advice.
Written By: Ky Hayes,
Entertaineur, Esq., Contributor
Georgia State University - Senior