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Weekly 3: Choosing a mentor

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Summary: Find an effective mentor -- not just a friend. Ask yourself these questions to find the righ
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

April 22 · Issue #31 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Find an effective mentor – not just a friend. Ask yourself these questions to find the right mentor (or mentee). Treat mentoring like any important professional relationship. (~5 min read)

#1. The best mentors will probably make you uncomfortable.
Author and personal development consultant Dan Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent that effective coaches and mentors have the following 5 traits: 
1. They don’t act like a waiter
Here’s what you don’t want: someone who only makes you comfortable and happy, with a minimum of effort, and says things like: Don’t worry, no problem, we can take care of that later.
For Coyle, this type of person is great as a waiter in a restaurant, but not as a coach or mentor.
2. They scare you a little
Instead of simply being courteous, your mentor should fill you with emotions like admiration, respect, and even “a shiver of fear.”
Look for the following signs:
  • They watch you closely: they’re genuinely interested in figuring you out – what you want and what motivates you.
  • They’re action-oriented: they won’t want to spend a lot of time chatting – instead, they’ll want to “jump in to a few activities immediately,“ so they can get a feel for you and vice versa.
  • They’re "unneveringly honest”: they will tell you the truth about your performance in clear language. You’ll eventually realize this isn’t personal, and is exactly the information you need to get better.
3. They give you short, clear directions
The best coaches and mentors “guide you to a target” by giving you short and unmistakably clear directions.
They don’t give long speeches because teaching “is not an eloquence contest; it is about creating a connection and delivering useful information.”
4. They love teaching the fundamentals
Great mentors and coaches know that fundamentals are at the core of your skills, and that the more advanced you become, the more crucial they are.
Because of this, they may spend an entire practice session on one core skill – for instance, how to hold a golf club or how to play a single note on a guitar.
5. Other things being equal, pick the older person
Coyle points out that like any other skill, it takes time to get good at teaching – all great teachers are themselves dedicated learners who are committed to their own growth.
However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t good coaches and mentors who are younger than 30 – there are; or that every person in their 60s and 70s is by definition a good coach or mentor – they’re not.
#2. Key questions to help you find your mentoring match.
Whitnie Low Narcisse, who leads all advisory programs at the venture capital firm First Round, studied 100 mentor-mentee relationships as part of the company’s Mentorship Program.
She analyzed the most successful matches, and recommends answering the below 8 questions to find the right person for you – 4 for the mentor and 4 for the mentee.
Questions mentors need to ask themselves:
  1. Are there clear and specific ways that you can help this potential mentee?
  2. Can this person be completely open and honest about their goals, problems, vulnerabilities, and progress?
  3. Are they proactive and prepared?
  4. Do they give you energy, teach you something new, or cause you to think more deeply about yourself?
Questions mentees need to ask themselves:
  1. Does this potential mentor remember key details about you? (If not, that’s a bad sign.)
  2. Are they close enough to your industry and function to understand the context and concepts of your work?
  3. Can they provide actionable advice that you can apply right away?
  4. Do they seem present and focused, and can they give you their undivided attention while you’re meeting?
#3. Choose your mentors carefully.
Entrepreneur and former management consultant Richard Koch writes in his book The 80/20 Principle that the best professional relationships are built on the following 5 attributes:
1. Mutual enjoyment
If you don’t enjoy spending time with someone, you won’t build a strong relationship with them. 
Koch notes that this may seem like an obvious point, but argues that it’s worth reflecting on: Of the people you spend time with socially, but mostly for professional reasons, how many of them do you actually like?
2. Respect
There may be plenty of people whose company you enjoy, but who you may not respect professionally – and vice versa.
For Koch: “If someone is to help you professionally, they must be impressed by you!”
3. Shared experience
This can be especially valuable if it involves struggle or suffering, as this kind of experience can lead to stronger bonds.
4. Reciprocity
The relationship can’t be one-sided. 
Koch suggests that you do whatever you can, “consistent with ethical standards,” to help the other person – you shouldn’t wait until they ask for a favor.
5. Trust
Trust cements relationships, and without it, they can unwind quickly.
This requires total honesty at all times: “Never forfeit trust by being capricious, cowardly, or cunning.”
For Koch, given how important mentor relationships are, you should proactively choose your 1 or 2 mentors. Don’t let them choose you: “they might deprive a much better mentor of the slot.”
The person you choose should fit these criteria: 
  • You must be able to create a relationship with them that is based on the above 5 attributes.
  • They should be as senior as possible, but what’s even better is a relatively junior person who’s destined to be a star: “The best mentors are extremely able and ambitious.”
Quote of the Week
“I know of no leader in any era who hasn’t had at least one mentor: teachers who found things in them they didn’t know were there, parents or older siblings, senior associates who showed them the way to be, or in some cases, not to be, or demanded more from them than they knew they had to give.”
Academic and leadership expert Warren Bennis in his book On Becoming a Leader
Idea Journal
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