Having the right mentors will help you immensely on your path to pursuing your dreams and goals. But there are some specific rules you should follow when finding the right mentor. You can’t simply pick anyone to provide you with good advice and support. Here are my six key characteristics of a successful mentor.
1. Successful in the area you’re trying to improve
Financial success is not the only determinant when deciding if someone would be a good mentor for you. More important than money, the first thing you should look at when choosing a mentor is their success in the area in which you’re trying to improve. This may have nothing to do with money. In fact, in most cases, it probably won’t.
My good friend, Craig, has been one of my mentors since Dee got sick. I actually don't know how financially secure Craig is, and to tell you the truth, I don't really care. I reached out to Craig for assistance when I was struggling with a sick wife and a failing small business. I looked to Craig because he’d been running a small business for a number of years, but more importantly, I looked to Craig because he always seemed in control. There were many times in that year when I didn’t feel in control. My emotions were affecting my decision-making abilities, and Craig was measured, thoughtful and patient, even when he faced challenges. That’s what I wanted in my life. I wanted stability and control over my own emotions and thoughts. Even if there weren’t quick fixes for the challenges I was facing, I believed I could at least improve my mental state with help from someone like Craig.
If you want to learn how to become a better cricket player, you wouldn’t go to a football player to get advice. But be aware that not everybody is cut out to be a mentor. Just because you have a good relationship with someone doesn’t mean they would be a good mentor for you. What matters most is that your mentor is successful in the single area in which you want to improve.
Because we like being told we’re doing a good job, you may be tempted to pick a mentor who blows smoke up your bum and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s wonderful and great, but that approach isn’t going to help you improve. Those who only provide you with positive encouragement have their place. They’ll be the ones to assist in building your courage and help you believe in yourself. We all have these people in our lives, and we should keep them close. They’re our cheer squad.
With that said, that’s not what you want from a successful mentor. Having a mentor willing to provide both positive and negative feedback is not only important; it’s vital. You need somebody who will challenge you, not accept mediocrity; somebody who’s willing to be open and upfront about areas in which you can improve. But the task doesn’t end there. You have to be willing to accept their honesty and hear their feedback, even if it seems rough. It’s part of the journey to becoming the best version of yourself. None of us are perfect. We all need people who are willing to tell us how we can improve.
3. Approachable and available
We might think a CEO of a large company would be a great mentor. You want someone successful, right? Remember, being successful is only part of the puzzle when finding an effective mentor. Someone who is approachable and available are two others traits to consider. There’s no point in having a mentor if you feel nervous calling or approaching them about certain topics. If your mentor is causing you angst, you have the wrong mentor. If you're nervous prior to your meeting with them, you have the wrong mentor. They must be easy to talk to and they must be available.
Let's say you do have a CEO as a mentor. You’re facing a challenging decision that needs to be made in the next few hours. The CEO may be far too busy to take your call or call you back. Often, we reach out to our mentors when things are tough because we need another trusted point of view. If we're unable to get in contact with our mentor because they’re frequently unavailable, it kind of defeats the purpose of having one. I’m certainly not saying you can’t have a CEO as a mentor. That would be great, as long as they can be there for you. This doesn't mean you should contact your mentor every day for assistance, but when you do contact them, more often than not they need to be available.
Also, be very careful in also, choosing a mentor who isn’t self-centered. You know those guys, the ones who tell you how good they are, or how successful they are. If you get caught with one of these guys, you’ll leave your sessions feeling more inadequate than when you started. Your mentor needs to be focused on you. Your meetings aren’t a forum for them to tell you how good they are. A good mentor will ask a lot of questions to help them better understand your situation. The questions they ask will illuminate things you’ve never considered before, and you will very likely be able to sort the situation out yourself, rather than them telling you what to do. Remember, a mentor shouldn’t be making decisions for you. They should be helping you make decisions for yourself.
4. Clear Communicator
Your mentor must give clear advice, without you having to decipher what they’re trying to say. Clarity eliminates
ambiguity and confusion. You want someone who is direct and to the point, not someone who talks in circles or around a topic. They need to be efficient in the way they communicate. You don't want to leave a session with your mentor feeling more unsure and confused than when you started.
The doctor that diagnosed Davina with Lyme disease had an unbelievable amount of knowledge about the disease itself, but struggled to provide us with clear information that we could understand. He used words we’d never heard before, and he spoke very fast. We would often leave an appointment with him feeling more confused and more lost than when we walked in.
When you are faced with big, important decisions, you need a mentor who communicates with you on your level. It doesn’t matter how smart they are. Do you connect with them? Can you understand what they’re saying? If the answer is no, find someone else.
5. Positive Attitude
We all have moments when we wallow in self-pity. Mentors can help us get out of this rut. Imagine you've got a great new mentor. You're having a rough day and feel stuck on a particular decision. You call your mentor for some advice. They answer with a surly, short response as to why one of your choices won’t work. How do you feel getting off the phone? Pretty crappy, right? Don’t pick a mentor who doesn’t have an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards life. Why do I say overwhelmingly positive?
Everybody shows his or her best selves to the public. Just look at Facebook! Everyone’s life on Facebook is amazing. If someone doesn’t strike you as overwhelmingly positive when you spend time with them, imagine what they’re like when they aren’t putting on show in front of other people. It’s fair to assume they’ll be far more negative when they’re alone, away from social obligation, and that’s not the person you want guiding you.
6. Willingness to Share
A great mentor will be your sounding board as you formulate plans about business and life. Receiving advice from someone who’s already been there and done that is extremely powerful. Now, some people are willing and eager to share their stories and assist you in making your decisions. But the opposite is also true. Some people feel like they’ll lose their competitive advantage by sharing all of their "secrets" with you. I'm not saying your mentor needs to share all of their personal information, but if they don’t have a willingness to share some aspects of their lives, there’s no way you'll be able to build a relationship deep enough, one you can trust wholeheartedly.
Be very selective in choosing your mentor. They’ll either lift you up and help you achieve new heights, or they’ll stifle your creativity and dreams if you pick the wrong one.
Believing in yourself is so important, but believing in others is also incredibly important. We have to trust others in order to really move forward. Most things we can’t do alone, and why would we want to? It’s always more enjoyable working with someone else on a project. When we opened the gym on a 24-hour basis, we had to step into the darkness and trust our members to treat our gym well. We don’t give people enough credit. Most people are good, trying to do the right thing as they go through life.
When we show that we trust someone, we are blessed with a greater degree of respect and loyalty.
So, take a moment and reflect on who your mentors are. Are they the right people to help you really reach your goals? If not, it is time to cut them and make a change.