A Mentor You Shall Have

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How cool would it be to have your own personal Yoda to help guide you in ways of the business force? Someone who helps you do things you weren't sure were possible, and believes in your potential? I believe the benefits to individuals and to organizations are immediately obvious, yet too often I've been in mentoring programs that have come straight from the dark side – tormented with what could have been while hanging on for dear life before dropping into a dark abyss because of daddy issues.

Mentors have been around for a long time. How long? Well, since Odysseus embarked for war with Troy. When he left he handed his son, Telemachus, over to a wise old friend named Mentor to be trained. But Telemachus got some heavenly advice when Athena, disguised as Mentor, counseled the young man and sent him off to become a hero.

Finding a great mentor doesn't have to be a miraculous event. At times it may seem like a fortuitous one: chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin (from the film "Searching for Bobby Fischer") was discovered when national chess master Bruce Pandolfini happened upon him playing in a park. Others who understand the importance haven't left it up to chance: Steve Jobs relied on mentors, such as former football coach and Intuit CEO Bill Campbell to keep himself sharp.

Do yourself a favor and don't wait for the organization to find you a mentor – don't wait to fall into a rut.

You can accelerate your career with a great mentor

Analysis shows that entrepreneurs who have mentors end up raising seven times as much capital for their businesses, and experience 3.5 times faster growth than those without mentors. And in fact, of the companies surveyed, few managed to scale a profitable business model without a mentor's aid (SmartcutsShane Snow, p. 37).

Step 1: find the right kind of mentor

Psychologist Christina M. Underhill compiled 25 years of mentorship research and looked at the data. The statistics showed that business people who were mentored in the workplace tended to achieve slightly more at work, on average, than those who didn't. Counter-intuitively, however, "Informal mentoring produced a larger and more significant effect on career outcomes than formal mentoring" (SmartcutsShane Snow, p. 42).

In fact, one-on-one mentoring in which an organization formally matched people proved to be nearly as worthless as a person having not been mentored at all. However, when students and mentors came together on their own and formed personal relationships, the mentored did significantly better, as measured by future income, tenure, number of promotions, job satisfaction, work stress, and self-esteem.

The difference between good and great mentors? Vulnerability and trust

"The reason mentees… succeeded in the long run is that mentors who were invested in their success, who showed vulnerability and cared enough to tell them what they didn't want to hear when they needed to hear it, forced them to examine success-crucial details more closely than they might have on their own" (SmartcutsShane Snow, p. 47). It's about making a connection – you want a mentor who cares.

The easily identifiable characteristics of great mentors? They listen more than they talk. They ask more questions than they provide answers.

On the flip side, maybe one of the most critical things you can do for your organization is to be a mentor. Not only can a few people who are achieving change make an impact, you are doing yourself a favor by spending a few minutes building someone up as least as the height of the paperwork on your desk.

Find someone coachable, you will. Speak like Yoda, you should not.