Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Mentors are NOT one size fits all.
This something I learned early as an ambitious young
leader. I was ALWAYS looking (and still am) for who I could
learn from next. This, by the way, is a good trait to have.
However, I was never taught that not everyone who
happens to know more than me in my field of work, or an
area of life that I wanted to grow in, was the right mentor for
me. As a result of my ignorance in this I had a few
unfortunate coffee dates with potential mentors where we
both walked away probably thinking, “Let’s NEVER do that
again!” While there were others that I happened upon that
was the perfect fit!
“Mentors are NOT one size fits all.”
Nevertheless, mentorship is a significant part of our growth
as leaders and it should be a consistent part as well. I
eventually realized that some intentionality should go into
selecting the people we’re asking to invest time and
knowledge in us. We all need a tool or filter for how to
successfully choose a mentor that we can learn from. While
we can be informally mentored throughout our lives, formal
mentorship takes intentionality.
“Nevertheless, mentorship is a significant part of our growth as leaders and it should be a consistent part as well.”
My foundational filter for selecting a mentor is two-fold.
First, I look for someone who is living a principle that I want
to learn. Whether it’s for becoming a better husband, a
better son, a better employee or another area of life. If
they’re living it out that’s my first ✓. The second thing I look
for if I am unable to find someone who is already where I
want to go is someone who is headed in the same direction
but just ahead of me. That’s the second ✓. Then to those
two, I add the following three filters.
1 KNOW HOW YOU LEARN BEST
The first thing we have to ask is, “How do I learn best?” This
question is key. How we learn is essentially the container
that we’ll use to help us hold on to the knowledge that our
mentor passes on. Are you a hands-on learner? Are you
visual? Are you an auditory learner? Knowing the answer to
this question will help us walk away from that mentorship
with the most growth possible. It will help you and your
mentor determine how to best navigate the teaching,
coaching and learning experience.
Tip: An easy indicator of whether or not you know the
answer is to think about how often you’ve wondered to
yourself about why you learn really well sometimes but not
all the time. If you think about that a lot, chances are you
don’t yet know how you best learn and need to spend time
figuring that out.
2 KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO LEARN
A common mistake people often make when entering into
mentorship is thinking that they’re going to somehow learn
everything from the mentor. This is unrealistic. The mentor
will not be able to do that nor will we be able to learn it all.
especially in short-term mentoring relationships. I learned
that identifying a specific an item that I’d like to walk away
with is far more successful.
For example, if you’re a Christian and you admire the
spiritual walk of a more mature believer. Instead of trying to
learn how to be as spiritual as they are. Try narrowing your
focus to learning how to find consistency in your walk with
Here’s another example, if you’re new on the job with lots to
learn, take few minutes to identify the area you feel the
most pressure to deliver on. Identify a core item you can
learn and use to improve that specific area on the job. After
you’ve done this filtering, then go find a mentor to guide
your learning that ONE thing. If you learn other things great!
3 KNOW THE TIME YOU NEED
This third and final filter will likely be one of the most
practical tools for both you and your mentor DURING your
mentorship. Before we identify a mentor to help us learn, we
need to get a clear idea of just how long it may take you to
learn it. A couple of hours? Days? Maybe months? My point
is that Formal Mentorship should never have an
indefinite timeline. That can turn into a dreadful thing
for both parties. Whenever we’re entering into a mentoring
relationship we should always establish a clear timeline.
If you’re both able to commit to an hour meeting once a
month and you know you’ll need at least 3 hours to fully
learn the idea or topic well, ask for four meetings. The
fourth will reduce the pressure on the first three and allow
room for flexibility.
THE POCKET POTENTIAL
Since mentorship is such an integral part of continuing to
develop as a leader, we should have a tool or filter for how
to successfully choose a mentor for ourselves. The
following three are my filters.
1. Know how you learn best
2. Know what you want to learn
3. Know the time you need
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post. If you
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ideas about great practices of self-leadership leave a
comment! I’d love to learn from you!