Behind every successful person, you can be sure to find one if not many mentors who helped them along the way. Some of the most significant mentoring relationships in history include celebrities and business moguls like Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. When referring to Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey says, “She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. Mentors are important, and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship.” While looking for a mentor can be a rewarding experience, there are some pitfalls to keep in mind. Here are five common mistakes to avoid when seeking a mentor.
Having unclear career goals
Once you decide you’d like to establish a mentoring relationship, the next step is to formulate an overall vision. Why do you need a mentor, and what do you want them to help you with? A common error is to ask a potential mentor to meet with you with no idea of what kind of help you need. The wisest thing to do is prepare in advance. Come to the conversation or meeting ready with an agenda. The more specific and targeted your request is, the more you will both get out of the relationship.
Looking for a one-size-fits-all mentor
Many people make the mistake of looking for one perfect mentor that embodies everything they want to be. Finding that one person may not be possible. Instead, think about it as a search for an advisory board. You may need to find multiple people with a variety of experiences. This might mean finding one mentor who can help you with your personal brand and another who has experience with securing small business funding.
Considering only more experienced mentors
The common assumption when considering a mentor is that they must be older and more experienced. Don’t underestimate the power of peer-to-peer mentoring. Peer-to-peer mentorship, unlike traditional mentorship, creates an even playing field between two people who have equal commitment and accountability to one another. A peer relationship tends to be more give and take. Also, your peer mentor will have a better understanding of the challenges you are facing because they are probably going through a similar experience. Besides, you never know if that person standing next to you could be the one to hire you in five years.
Searching for a mentor just like you
Don’t limit yourself to looking for a mentor that is your mirror image. Instead, select a mentor with a different background. This approach will help you to develop personally and professionally. Choose people who have exposure to a different business area or industry sector. Condoleezza Rice, the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and former U.S. Secretary of State, shares her advice on searching for mentors: “Search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career. But here’s an important warning: You don’t have to have mentors who look like you. Had I been waiting for a black, female Soviet specialist mentor, I would still be waiting. Most of my mentors have been old white men because they were the ones who dominated my field.”
Creating a one-sided mentoring relationship
Mentoring relationships work best when there is a give and take. Both parties should receive some value and mutual benefit. For example, the mentee could help their mentor with social media if they are proficient in it. Maybe it’s not even insight or knowledge that the mentee contributes. Perhaps they bring something else to the table, like a sounding board for ideas or a different perspective. Whether you’re the mentor or mentee, your life experiences matter, and they deserve to be shared.
Searching for a mentor means being proactive and putting yourself out there. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people you admire that can guide you. Developing a strong network requires commitment, but as with everything in life, you get out what you put in. In the end, don’t take your mentor for granted. With a bit of preparation, honesty, respect and gratitude, you’ll find yourself creating not just a valuable professional relationship but a lasting friendship.
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