It’s said that King Solomon was the wisest man who ever walked the earth. From the stories it seems his leadership ability was pretty astonishing as well. Imagine what it would have been like to spend an hour with him. What questions would you ask? What problems would you want him to help you solve? What best practices would you want to know about?
I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Jeff Myers in college and he introduced me to the art of mentoring. My life hasn’t been the same since. Unfortunately none of us will ever get an audience with King Solomon, but there are plenty of “Solomons” out there we can and should be seeking out. Many people refer to them as mentors. Think of a mentor as simply someone who is wiser, more knowledgeable, or has more experience than you in a certain area. They could be older or younger than you. And since we are never the best and brightest at everything, there are always plenty of potential mentors all around us. We simply need to be proactive.
Mentors help us go further faster.
So how can you get the most from the mentors in your life? Here are five easy ways:
Think of an area you want to learn more about or grow in.
This will help you determine the person you want to get input from, either professionally or personally. If you want to improve your leadership ability, you should look for someone with wisdom, knowledge, or experience in leadership. The same goes for writing, selling, buying a house, starting a business, studying for the MCAT, exploring careers in web design, social networking, etc. The options are literally limitless.
Identify a potential mentor and seek an audience.
Okay, that sounds a little formal. But the important thing to keep in mind is that they are the giver and you are the receiver. Therefore, tell your potential mentor what you are trying to learn more about and that you value their input and will accommodate their schedule. You can invite him or her to breakfast or coffee, offer to stop by their office, ask for a reasonable amount of time on the telephone or video chat, or simply include your questions in an email. If your potential mentor is not a current acquaintance, ask a mutual friend to introduce you.
Have a list of questions prepared.
Here are some of the tried-and-true favorites I’ve acquired. I also found this great list of leadership questions from Michael Hyatt.
- You’ve been successful in this field when so many others have failed. What made the difference for you?
- What are the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
- What advice would you give to someone just starting out today?
- What are some of the obstacles along the way I’ll need to be aware of?
- If you were starting all over again, what would you do differently?
- Who are the key leaders in this field I should be following?
- What books, publications, or blogs should I be reading?
- What questions haven’t I asked that I should be asking?
Make it a pleasant experience for your mentor.
Make sure to thank you mentor for his or her time. If there is anything helpful or valuable you can provide, then don’t hesitate to offer it, such as briefly sharing what you’re learned already or a resource you’ve really benefited from. And incidentally, don’t feel the need to call your mentor a “mentor!” If they get the impression they’ve signed up for more than they’ve bargained for, it can lead to an unpleasant experience for them!
Take the insight you’ve gained from your mentor and put it to use. See how far it takes you. Usually when we take a first step, we can then see far enough to take the next one. After you’ve taken action, you may have more questions. At this point it may be appropriate to check in with a mentor again, either the same one or another. But try to utilize your own research ability first – there’s a lot of information available at the click of a mouse!
Is there a professional mentoring program in place at your job? Read my post next week to learn how to start a professional mentoring program for your organization.