Today, the name of the man in Homer’s famous saga who was entrusted to watch over the young son of Odysseus as he set off to fight in the Trojan War is synonymous for a sage and faithful counselor: Mentor.
Question: Do you remember the name of the young man under Mentor’s tutelage?
Obviously, Telemachus never caught on to describe the person being mentored. Maybe this is one of the reasons we tend to focus on the mentor’s role while undervaluing the mentee’s. Yet, throughout history, some of the greatest mentor-mentee relationships have been initiated by the mentee — including Henry Ford, who nurtured his mentor relationship with Thomas Edison to great success.
What Is menteeship?
I define menteeship as: your proactive effort to establish, manage and sustain a relationship with a mentor who will guide and support your development, goals, and vision.
Being mentored could be your most crucial work-focused relationship. Leaving it to chance is irrational. The “Dictionary of Occupational Titles” ranks mentoring as the highest and most complex level of functioning in the people-related hierarchy of skills. The probability that a worthy mentor will simply surface at the appropriate time is not high.
Proactively nurturing a mentoring relationship makes sense. The good news is that research identifies characteristics reported by mentors to be most important in a mentee. All those characteristics are within your control: intelligence, common values, loyalty, political savvy, ambition, leadership qualities, potential, reputation, interpersonal relationships and trust.
If you are exploring a worthy goal, consider taking advantage of the research. Become a Mentor Magnet.
1. Be an eager learner
Mentors seek a mentee with intelligence. But how do you demonstrate intelligence? Be generous with your expertise and experience: teach classes, help develop others, write articles and blogs. Demonstrate a desire to learn, be a willing pupil, and ask for specifics. Read, study, and take classes.
Natural intelligence is a wonderful quality, but continued learning and a quest for knowledge are more important. Mentors thrive by giving their precious time to people who value learning from them.
2. Be visible
How do you demonstrate characteristics such as political savvy and ambition without betraying important values? Join local or national associations that reflect your interests and run for office, deliver speeches and make presentations, and attend conferences. Send notes and work-related articles with personal comments to people, and respond to papers or reports that others have authored.
3. Be accessible
Be at work a few minutes early or stay a little late from time to time, post your office hours, and set time aside daily to return telephone calls and emails in a timely fashion.
And don’t skip lunch. The company cafeteria can be one of the best places to see and be seen. Make time for having lunch with colleagues or even people in the organization you don’t know very well — use lunch to learn about people outside your department and, in turn, have people learn about you.
4. Proactively seek key assignments
Learn what the organization’s priorities are, then:
- take on high-profile projects (do high-quality work on high-priority projects)
- proactively propose a new area of responsibility that reflects leadership potential
- lead an influential task force
- volunteer for a major project
Demonstrate to a potential mentor that you can handle challenge and responsibility.
5. Demonstrate ability
Be aware of the quality of your communication in each report, email, voicemail and letter. Be consistent with — and conscious of — the message you send through the work you do and the way you do it. Provide regular progress reports.
6. Demonstrate trustworthiness
Purposely make promises — and then keep them. For example, promise to send someone an article, then follow through. Show a willingness to help others achieve their goals, and be aware of other people’s needs and how you can help through your experience, expertise, energy or empathy. Don’t be the “yes” person — give potential mentors honest feedback and opinions. Be willing to courageously speak truth to power.
7. Take initiative to develop the relationship
Make a concerted effort to interact with potential mentors. Don’t wait for a potential mentor to find you. Be creative—find legitimate ways to ask questions, request help, and provide help. Interview potential mentors about their experiences as a way of learning about them, while giving them a chance to learn about you. Ultimately, you will most likely need to initiate the mentee-mentor relationship (as well as nurture and sustain it).
8. Elevate the energy of people around you
This may be the most crucial mentor magnet (and the least tangible). Passion and enthusiasm are contagious. Authenticity is key: it means having clarity of your values and acting in accordance with those values.
Mentors, like all of us, are attracted to people who are optimally motivated by their values, sense of purpose and desire to contribute to the greater good — not by power, status or acceptance. There is something extremely magnetic about people who find meaning in what they are doing, have positive energy while doing it, and elevate the energy of those around them.
Is menteeship worth the effort?
The benefits of becoming a Mentor Magnet go far beyond career, money, status and power. Research shows that being a mentee results in humility and patience, balance, acceptance of your strengths and weaknesses, respect for other perspectives, adaptability to changing workplace realities, the ability to cope and a humane approach to conducting business.
Menteeship is not only about career growth but also about personal, even spiritual, growth.
One way to gain wisdom is through your own experience. Another is learning through the wisdom of someone who has already made the journey. With a mentor at your side, you have access to both.
Susan Fowler is on a mission to help you learn the skill of motivation. In her latest book, “Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals,” she presents an evolutionary idea: Motivation is a skill. Providing real-world examples and empirical evidence, Susan teaches you how to achieve your goals and flourish as you succeed. She is also the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research and eight books, including the best-selling “Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager” with Ken Blanchard and “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing.” Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com.