Find a Mentor, Become a Mentor

I went out for drinks with a business colleague yesterday and, as often happens, we ended up in a conversation that led to him offering me what I consider to be sage advice. I asked him “how old are you”? When he responded that he was 5 years younger than me (he’s 38 and I’m 43- no secrets here) I asked, almost jokingly why it is that at his younger age, he always seems to have such a broader view of handling an issue than I do? His response was that he had a former colleague of ours to mentor him as he grew in life and business. Once stated, the answer was obvious. I saw in the bits of advice he offered me all the earmarks of our former colleague.

It’s tough for me to admit, but when this man (my friend’s mentor) recently passed away, MUCH too soon, as bad as I felt for his family and their loss, I felt sorry for myself as well. This gentleman and myself had become business associates and he began to pull me aside, talk to me and impart nuggets of wisdom. I recognized this and was proud that someone so accomplished was taking an interest in me and my career. He became sick soon after and sadly, my regular contact with him came to an end. I lamented that our relationship had formed too late and I would never fully realize the benefits of his wisdom. I was realizing yesterday though, that while he was gone, he had left a legacy of mentorship.

We often hear stories of great football coaches that nurture other coaches who go on to greatness on their own and start the process over again for the generation of coaches that follow. Like great coaching, mentorship is passed from generation to generation. I realized in my conversation with my friend, that the wisdom of our colleague was not lost; it lived on.

Find a mentor.

Find someone you respect in your line of business, or even in another line of business and talk to them. Ask them how they handle problems, how they make decisions, where they turn when they need help. You will find that most folks who “have it figured out” are anxious to share what they’ve learned. Once you’ve established this kind of relationship with a mentor you will be able to measure the growth you take from the experience. This learning does not happen overnight. It comes from observation as much as conversation. How does your mentor carry him or herself, how do they treat others. Finding the attributes of your mentor that can help you grow often time takes years and takes form in your life almost invisibly. There is no “Ah-ha” moment, but rather subtle change that is a result of putting yourself in the presence of the right people.

But, the growth that you achieve as a result of mentorship comes with a responsibility as well; you must help others to grow. Become a mentor. Listen hard when a young colleague is asking a question. Are they looking for a simple answer, or something more? Be willing to share the gift of time and experience that someone has taken the time to offer you. You will be better for it and you will help another generation to be their best as well.

My younger friend paid the greatest possible respect to our former colleague with the advice he has been offering me; he continues his legacy of mentorship.