Having a great mentor is the number one thing that will determine your professional and personal success. For example, my career would have turned out differently if it were not for the advice I received from my mentor, Jim Bostic, almost 20 years ago.
At that time, I had resigned from Georgia-Pacific (GP) and the CIO of the company told me he would not accept it until after I spoke with Jim. He listened to me vent for about 15 minutes about why I was resigning. I was extremely frustrated with my job and my boss (who wasn’t the CIO) at the time. I had moved from running a function to being an individual contributor within the IT strategy group and was resigning after less than six months on the job. After I finally finished, Jim looked me straight in the eyes and said, “What in the hell do you want to resign for? Can’t you see what they are trying to do for you? You have shown that you can get things done when you have direct control; they are trying to teach you how to lead through influence.” He also asked me what my career goals were. I couldn’t clearly articulate them other than I wanted to make a lot of money. (Hey, I grew up poor and wanted to create wealth.) Jim told me that I needed to think bigger and be much more succinct in what my goals were so that people could help me achieve them. He ended by telling me not to be a dumb-ass and embrace what they wanted me to learn. Needless to say, I took Jim’s advice to heart and the rest is history.
I had similar experiences with other mentors in my life. There are three traits that set great mentors apart from all of the rest:
They put things into perspective: They cause you to take a “Step up” in your thinking. You are normally focusing on the challenge right in front of you and not the bigger picture. For example, Jim helped me realize what I thought was an obstacle was actually an opportunity.
They clear your thinking: They cause you to think about what your end goal is and how you need to starting thinking and positioning yourself to achieving it. After the discussion with Jim, my career goal became I wanted to go from being a functional IT and Transportation expert to running a business where all of the parts came together for the success of the whole, which I wound up doing within five years of our discussion.
They help you develop a course of action: They give you advice how to handle the challenge that you are directly facing in a manner that is in alignment with your overall career goal.
If your mentor isn’t doing the above three things, then you need to get another mentor. To the mentors who are doing them, you are worth your weight in gold because you are not only helping someone else be successful, but also teaching that person how to mentor others.