How to Find a Mentor

How to find a mentorMost of us know we don’t know it all. Perhaps you know enough to realize how much you don’t know. If only you could get a leg up. If only you could get an advantage or a little head start, we could do so much better. If only we had a mentor, right? You have thought that before, I am sure. If you had a mentor to show you how to do this or that. If only you had a mentor to help you avoid mistake, or point you towards this shorter path through the woods.

A mentor can be a big factor in shaping and evolving your message and be a jumpstart when it comes to marketing, mobilizing, and mastering. Holy Crow, that was a lot of Ms.

From my experience, there are five types of mentors.

Classic mentor.  A Classic mentor is likely what you think of when you think of a mentor. A classic mentor is a single person who invested in you and your development. When I first became a Park Ranger, I was lucky enough to have a classic mentor. Jack Hartt, the Park Manager, took an interest in me and devoted time and attention to my development. He would spend lunch breaks with me. Jack would answer my questions almost any time. He exposed me to situations that were above my pay grade and helped me think a level or two above where my current job was. We would even play quick rounds of trivial pursuit in the office. I am pretty sure I won every time.

Academic mentor. An academic mentor is someone who mentors you through the content they produce. Books are an obvious way to connect with the academic mentor. For only $20 you can spend hours with a mentor and get some of their best advice. Don’t discount this idea. Pick a book and take the words with the same weight you would with a classic mentor. If you take a book with the idea of consuming the words, not for entertainment but to learn and grow and change, it can have the same impact as spending the same amount of time with the classic mentor.

The best part of an academic mentor is there is one out there for any topic you want to learn about. Do you want to build a strong foundation of personal accountability? Spend time with John Miller and the book QBQ. Do you want to get better customer service? Spend time with Lee Cockrell and the book The Customer Rules. Want to help lead your team through changes spend time with John Kotter in the book Leading Change.  Those are three examples of academic mentors through books to consider.  I have spent time with Seth Godin, Jack Welch, and so many more mentors through books.

Books are not the only way to connect with an academic mentor. Content comes in many forms. A podcast can connect you with a mentor. Let’s use the Brand You Podcast by Mike Kim as an example. Each week, Mike Kim gives you a valuable, personal lesson on marketing or branding that will enable you to take action. Or, Mike Kim will have a guest on his show. This gives you an opportunity to sit in on a conversation with someone like Ray Edwards or Pat Flynn who is going to deliver their own valuable lesson. It is like you are right there at the table with them. Whatever topic Mike covers that week, you can spend that week working on it. A podcast can be just as good as a weekly session with a classic mentor, although not as personal. Just like with books, there is nearly a podcast about any topic you want to learn about. One of my other podcasts is called The Park Leaders Show. If there is a show out there for park rangers, there is also going to be a show about whatever industry you are in or the topic you are interested in learning more about.

Situational mentor.  A situational mentor is someone who mentors you for a certain situation. If you need to improve a skill, perhaps you can find a situational mentor to help you only with that skill. If you are having a tough time with an employee, you can find someone else who has been through a similar situation. If you are hiring an employee for the first time or going for a promotion yourself,  you can find a situational mentor to help you out. I think you get where I’m going with this. You can find a situational mentor to help you out in that situation.  It could be a short time mentorship lasting only for this one situation. You do not even have to use the word mentor, just ask for help. The word I like to use this counsel. I don’t ask for advice. I don’t expect someone to tell me what to do. I want counsel as I work to the situation.

Shadow mentor. A shadow mentor is simply someone you observe. For example, you want your supervisor or someone else in a leadership role with a deliberate eye towards how they handle situations and how they deal with people. The key here is you have to be deliberate in watching and analyzing what they do and how they do it. You can take a step further than just watching; you can ask to be involved in situations and learn in their shadow. You can ask your supervisor to let you attend a meeting with her. You can ask to help with staff scheduling for the month or something else you are interested in. Find a way to get yourself in her shadow so you can learn.

If you are self-employed like I am, fear not. You are not out of luck. You may not have a supervisor or a leader in the organization to shadow, but you can reach out to anyone. Find a local businessman and ask if you can just shadow them for a day. Find someone you respect in the online world and ask if you can help them at an event or training just to shadow and learn from them. Let them know you want or expect nothing in return, you just want to shadow them.

Anti-mentor. Having an anti-mentor may sound strange and like something you want to stay away from. But if you find yourself working for a bad boss you can grumble about it and have a lousy time, or you can use a bad boss is a mentor and anti-mentor. Let a bad boss mentor you on what not to do. Trust me when I tell you to use an anti-mentor like a shadow mentor and don’t tell them you’re using them as a bad example. If you tell a bad boss you are using him as an anti-mentor it will make your life a bit uncomfortable. Watch them and be deliberate about understanding what they’re doing that you would not want to do. Some things I learned from an anti-mentor include the importance of doing the work. Let your team see you working with them. I learned the value of inclusion. If a team member does not feel like they are part of what is going on things will begin to crumble. I have learned about customer service, time management, people management and so much more from one bad boss.  Some of these lessons are just as valuable as what I could’ve learned from a classic mentor. In fact, the lessons stick more because I understand how it made me feel.

Those are the five types of mentors but don’t overlook the value of friendships. If you are hanging out with the right people, you are going to be smarter and get more done.  There you have it my friend, my take on mentors. The good, the bad, and where you can find each type.  As I mentioned at the top of the show, by the end of the day you can have a mentor identified, maybe for all five types of mentors. And you have an opportunity to be working with a mentor by tomorrow. With the opportunity to work with an academic mentor, you can have one of your major problems solved by the end of the week.

Have you had a mentor who impacted your life, your business, or career? If you want to share the story, send an email and tell me about it. I am always curious to hear stories about how someone used the knowledge or experience of someone else to improve.

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Jody Maberry