I spent far longer than I would like to admit brainstorming the best approach to this post.
Where do I start? An anecdote? A metaphor? A crazy story?
I tried a couple of those and they turned out great, but like Goldilocks I was still searching for just the right start.
When dealing with leadership and mentoring, the best bet is to not sugar coat things. The most effective approach is to be direct and blunt.
Leaders need mentors. A mentor is never a want and always a need.
And since you can never not lead, you need a mentor.
Every leader needs encouragement from time to time. Even if words of affirmation are a foreign language to you, you need someone to praise you for something. A mentor does that while giving a leader the courage to step out and do something bold. As a leader you may struggle with mustering the resolve to do something out of your comfort zone, but a mentor gives you the courage to strike out into unknown territory and the encouragement necessary to live with whatever consequences may come.
You may have a great network already, but if you spend some time with an older, wiser and more successful person they can give you access to connections you may never have had otherwise. The great part is mentors mentor because they want to help and a simple introduction takes hardly any effort on their part. Mentors want to help and leveraging their network to support an up-and-comer gives them a nice buzz.
Leaders need objectivity. It is too difficult to remove yourself from your work and circumstances. Often when problems arise leaders can lose sight of the big picture. A mentor will listen objectively and empathize while also offering honest, unfiltered feedback.
Leaders need mentors because they live in completely different stages of life. Mentors are further down the road. They have ‘been there, done that’ with most situations you will face as a leader. Mentors know the pitfalls and snares of being a young leader. Leaders need to seek out mentors because they offer wisdom and perspective not available otherwise. Mentors only mentor because they’ve lived their lives and have the life experience to draw from. Let them pour it into your cup.
All leaders need it, but not nearly enough have it. A mentor can help you set goals and bust you when the deadline comes. Mentors want the best for you, but they also want the best from you. They did not sign up to mentor you because you’re good looking; they did it because they saw something in you. Let them foster that vision and keep you accountable.
If you can never not lead, that means you are a leader.
Even those of you who don’t necessarily plan to lead.
Each of you are a leader right now whether you acknowledge it or not. Leading can be (and is) as simple as the way you treat people when others aren’t watching (hint…they’re always watching), how well you clean up after yourself (or don’t), and any number of things you tend to glance over.
If you’re leading – no, if you’re breathing, you need a mentor.
At the very least, you need more of the five things listed above. Why keep putting it off? Find someone older, wiser and more experienced, whom you look up to, and ask them to coffee.
This week. Heck, contact them right now.
Don’t ask them immediately to mentor you, just get to know them. Ask them about their career, how they got where they are now, how they started, and what they love. Follow-up with an email and then ask to do it again. After a couple of these, ask if the person would be willing to mentor you on a regular basis.
You cannot afford to sit idly while life flies by. Be engaged, ask questions, and most importantly, never stop learning.
If you want to be a great leader, you need a mentor.