A mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. He or she can either be a formal, paid relationship or an informal, unpaid one. The critical component is finding someone who already has accomplished whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
This was made crystal-clear to me when participating in renowned consultant Alan Weiss’s mentor program. I asked him for guidance on a particular business matter and shared with him the guidance I received from someone else. He simply responded, “There are three of us having this conversation, and only one of us has done it.” Point made. I took his advice and never looked back.
Keep in mind that mentorship is not about having a coffee buddy or someone to commiserate with you. There may be some of that, of course, but coffee time should really constitute a fraction of one percent of the relationship. As Weiss often says: “If you want a friend, get a dog.” When I interact with Alan these days, I make sure it’s regarding a significant issue — one I’ve tried to work through on my own first. I go to him because I can’t get his kind of insight or perspective anywhere else.
Unfortunately, a regrettable lack of informal or formal mentoring happens in many organizations these days. But when you seek out and develop mentor relationships with the right people, you’ll rectify your skill discrepancies and shift to a higher gear almost immediately.