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Good mentors are passionate about their yearning to help others and receive their rewards not in the form of materialistic items or money, but in seeing the people they have helped become successful.
All people have a zone in which they operate and live. They are comfortable and able to excel in this zone. This is called a comfort zone. To grow, you’ll need to step outside of your comfort zone to be able to have new experiences and learn. A good mentor is capable of identifying your comfort zone and developing steps and activities within your goals that will force you to become comfortable outside of your zone.
You may have many people to choose from when you are shopping for a mentor. This can be similar to shopping for a shirt. If you find a style you like, the one that fits might be in the middle of the pile or be the last one you look at. Many people will try to manipulate you over your life and career, trying to become an influencer and develop you in the way that worked for them, or that they think is best. A good mentor will create a strategy that fits your needs, talents, skills, and desires and push you towards a better you—not towards a clone of themselves.
Good mentors are life-long learners and should want to pass that desire on to everyone they come in contact with. They should realize that while they are experts, they cannot possibly know everything. A valuable trait in a mentor (and to be frank, in everyone else) is the understanding that it is ok to be an expert and not know something. A mentor that can answer a question with, “I don’t know, but I will find you an answer” is someone worth spending time with. Good mentors will be excited to share their knowledge with you and be willing to explore the possibility that you may have answers that they do not. A mentor that will learn from their mentee is indeed worthy of your respect and time.
Everyone can benefit from feedback. Even the most skilled and knowledgeable person is a beginner at something, requiring feedback to continue to grow in their new skills. Feedback is essential to improvement. A mentor should create long-term objectives and short-term goals with you to help you become the expert you want to be. Feedback should be provided during each session with your mentor. It should not be degrading, but should simply inform you of a shortcoming, and identify corrective actions you can take to be more successful the next time.
A mentor needs to be able to listen to what you are saying. They should be involved in the conversation, prompting you for clarity or more information. They shouldn’t be distracted when you are talking to them. A person that is always allowing themselves to be interrupted by phones, emails, or people walking by when in a session with you is not actively listening. A good mentor will not have any distractions when you are talking with them, focusing on you and taking part in the conversation. They will ask questions, reflect on your answers and even give you some silence when you need to think.
Respect for others is not limited to mentors, but it should be on your list of requirements. Mentors should know how to be tactful in their conversations, and be emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of emotions in others and oneself, and be able to make decisions and influence others while controlling emotions and feeling empathy for those they are dealing with. Mentors shouldn’t be judgemental of others, voice their opinions of people, or talk down to you about others. “Don’t do this as John does, he’s not very good at this.” This is not helpful to you or John and violates the privacy expected from a mentor.
Mentors are not just respectful, enthusiastic people. They should be considered an expert in their field, and be in the same field you are hoping to become an expert in. It is possible for a mentor to not be in an expert in the field you work in and provide excellent guidance, but you generally should stick with an expert in your field.
Your choice of a mentor should be respected by their peers, and yours. If you choose a mentor that is not well-known in the industry, you may not get the results you desire. Many people use mentors not only as guides to develop themselves but to associate themselves with the name of that mentor.
If your field is archaeology, and your mentor is Dr Jones (the respected and well-known professor and archaeologist), you’ll have the benefit of being the doctor’s protege. This gives you much-needed credibility while ensuring that you have been instructed and guided correctly.
However, if Dr Jones (the archaeologist who discovered a 10-year-old basket of plastic eggs behind a bush in his backyard) is your mentor, you might not find yourself receiving the guidance or experience you were hoping for.
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