Everybody tells you that a mentor is important for your development, but finding one is often another matter. In fact, it is much easier to give advice about the value of a mentor than to actually find one. I had the good fortune of having a mentor who significantly influenced me as a young leader/manager, but candidly, I think he found me. In fact, I am not certain that I knew he was my mentor, nor do I think that he actually thought of himself as such, but the end result was that he greatly changed who I was. So how did all that happen, and what can you learn from this?
I took a job that was designed to use my education, training and experience, and convert me into a leadership candidate. I was on an “informal, development track,” and was looking for the opportunity to do well and advance. The man who hired me, my official boss, was supportive and a good manager, but he was not a mentoring type.
Luckily, the nature of the job gave me exposure to a great many people in the organization. I had a bunch of “grunt work” to do, and I guess I did it well, because I seemed to catch the eye of “the big boss” who ran all of the operations. He noticed me and for whatever reason, that guy eventually became my mentor. Eventually, he became my boss, and from that point forward, he was always there. More often than not, he gave me impossible assignments, and I managed to get them down. These job assignments were enriched by his counsel, which was interspersed with directives and work assignments. In short, he “flew air cover for me,” and I achieved results. More importantly, I grew and learned from him and the experiences.
So, what can you gain from this? On one hand, you can learn that looking for a mentor may be a useless exercise because mentoring starts with a commitment by the mentor to act in that capacity, and there is little you can do to make that happen. On the other hand, the lesson to learn is to “yearn to learn.” True mentors love to know that they are impacting others. My mentor never set out to be that, but everybody he touched was mentored by him in some way. I never decided he would be my mentor, but I was a hungry young man, who wanted to grow, and to achieve. I learned from him because I listened. Every time I had a success, he was there and every time I screwed up, he was there as well.
So, my advice: find those who love to help, and let them help. Yearn to learn, and learn to learn. That way, you will not need a formal relationship. Your willingness to grow from that relationship will make the relationship into a mentoring one.
Gerry Czarnecki is the author of Take Two & Call Me in the Morning: Prescriptions for a Leadership Headache. He currently serves as the Chairman & CEO of the Deltennium Group, which helps organizations achieve peak performance through effective leadership. Previously, he served on the team responsible for the turnaround of the IBM Corporation. More information is available at www.taketwocall.com