The first part to getting a mentor is identifying the possibilites. There has to be a certain “match” and an interest on both sides. If there are people around you that you admire or wish you could emulate, that puts them on the list of your candidate mentors! If not, then ask for recommendations. Your best source would obviously be your pastor. Ask him who he recommends.
Once you’ve identified your list of candidates set up a short meeting, perhaps coffee, with the individual at the top of your list. Typically these folks are very busy, so be respectful of their calendar and be patient to get that initial meeting. If this person’s name came from a recommendation, perhaps the person that gave you the recommendation can set up an introduction. And please do keep that initial meeting short to demonstrate that you keep your commitments when it comes to people’s time.
When meeting time arrives, start off by explaining the purpose of the meeting (i.e. to see if there is a mutual interest in starting a mentoring relationship):
- Explain why you think this would be a good match. If possible, enumerate the qualities you’ve seen or heard about the candidate mentor/coach that you admire.
- It’s important to establish rapport early in the conversation or to quickly recognize that it’s difficult to do so and may not make a great fit. Don’t be shy! Be eager! Most everyone would be flat-out flattered that they are being approached with this kind of request, even if in the end there isn’t a fit.
- Talk a little bit about yourself – what you do, where you see yourself going. Also talk about what you expect to get out of a mentor and what kind of time commitment you expect.
- Do be sure to be flexible as you are the one essentially asking a favor even if in the end the relationship ends up being very beneficial to both of you. Both of you should have enough of a conversation to decide if you’d like to proceed.
- Hopefully the answer is “yes” to proceeding from both of you, but be very prepared to hear “no” from the candidate mentor. Don’t take it personally! I’ve had some candidate mentors say no to me because they were already mentoring 3 other people and simply could not take on an additional person. You may hear “no” because the person honestly feels that they can’t offer you much help or time. Not everyone is prepared to be a mentor and that doesn’t make them a bad person of course. You may decide “no” on your part because the qualities you thought the candidate mentor possessed were not quite there. If this isn’t your mentor, that’s fine. Just move to the next person on the list or grow your list through conversations with peers and friends.
Questions to ask a prospective mentor:
- Have you mentored before? – I think it’s useful to find out if you are working with a first-time mentor. If this is an experienced mentor, I’d ask additional questions about what worked well and what didn’t with past mentees this person has had. If it is a first-time mentor, I’d first thank him/her for the honor of being this person’s first mentee! Then I’d probably spend a little more time going over the “ground rules” covered many times on this blog.
- Have you ever had a mentor? – This is a great thing to find out. If this person has had mentors of his/her own, that’s a really positive sign. It demonstrates that the individual cares about self-improvement personally, which likely means he/she will understand and care that you want that for yourself. Also as in question #1 above, you can immediately dive into what worked, as well as what didn’t work, in your potential mentor’s previous relationships.
- What are some topics that interest you? – Of course the topics to be discussed are almost always brought up by the mentee. Wouldn’t it be interesting though to find out early on that both mentee and mentor share some common interests? If I were asked this question, my answer would be (from a mentoring perspective): 1. communication; 2. confidence; 3. influencing.
- How can I help you? – This question strongly reinforces the notion that a mentoring relationship is ultimately a two-way street. It also demonstrates that the mentee recognizes he/she should offer something of value back to the mentor. That keeps the goodwill going, so to speak. The mentor may not have an answer immediately, but when he/she does, the mentee should be sure to honor that request!
What qualities to look for in a mentor:
- Authenticity – the mentor “practices” what he/she “preaches.” A good mentor will not only tell you what the best approach is, but the mentor should also be utilizing the approach him/herself. The mentor doesn’t send you in one direction while he/she goes another saying, “You have to learn the hard way.” The purpose of working with a mentor is to learn from the mentor’s mistakes.
- Personal Involvement – the mentor should take a personal interest in the mentoring relationship. The mentor should get to know you, how you work, what your goals are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and any other pertinent information that you (the mentee) believe to be relevant.
- Listening Ear – a good mentor will genuinely listen to your concerns and not be eager to get the conversation over. You shouldn’t be a list item on your mentor’s day sheet. He/She should know your current projects by name and be able to ask you, first hand, how things are going.
- Continues to Learn and Grow – a good mentor knows that he/she couldn’t possibly know everything there is to know in any given field today – the world has become much too complex. Things change, people change, circumstances change – and it’s all great. A good mentor will remain open to new ideas and even try them.
- Assumes You’re Great – a good mentor doesn’t assume that you’re a loser just because you are coming to him/her for advice. A mentor recognizes that you have talent and are successful already, (otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to afford his/her fee!) At the very least, a good mentor should see your potential or otherwise not take you on as a mentee.
- Builds You Up – A good mentor is tuned in, tapped in, turned on, and in his/her wholeness, will uplift you. When someone fosters insecurity in you, that person is not tuned in, tapped in, turned on, and as a result, not a good mentor for you in that moment.
- Trustworthiness – can this person keep things confidential? You need to have an open and safe place to discuss anything, and that space isn’t created if there is fear of information getting out. Establish the “all our conversations stay in the room” rule at your first session.