No one climbs alone. Somewhere along the line, even the most self-made success stories feature important mentors and advocates along the way.
Maybe you already know who your most important mentors are. Maybe you haven’t met them yet. Whatever your situation, you should know how to make the most of your professional relationships. Whether you’re entering the workforce, considering a career change, or just looking to explore your potential, keep these tips in mind as you work alongside your mentors:
Shine some light on your blind spots.
Blind spots don’t always mean weaknesses. You may be unsure of your ability to run a business or advance your career, but your mentor can help you see a different side of yourself. The strengths and weaknesses that make up your potential hide below the surface. A good mentor can draw those traits out and fill in the gaps in your self-image.
“Good mentors not only support and encourage, they also help us stretch and expand our capacity,” says Ruth Todd, SVP of Public Affairs at Nu Skin. “So, it’s important, on many levels, to find a mentor who truly sees you, hears you and makes you feel safe in your vulnerability.”
Every mentor relationship is different, but don’t hesitate to ask directly for feedback. Receive constructive criticism with a growth mindset, and take the opportunity to develop from what you learn.
Encourage you to take your ideas further.
When personal trainer extraordinaire Jillian Michaels decided she needed a mentor, she didn’t look for someone in her industry. Instead, she turned to finance guru Suze Orman. Michaels had already achieved massive success in her own right, but to take it further, she knew she needed someone with a keen eye for good ideas. Fortunately for Orman, Michaels had plenty.
“A true powerhouse such as Jillian Michaels does not really need to be mentored — she just needed a sounding board for her already great ideas,” said Orman. “Her problem was too many great ideas all going in different directions.”
Mentors can help mentees identify which ideas are worth pursuing and which ones are better left on the cutting-room floor. Put together a list of the ideas that excite you the most, then talk to your mentor about each item. You may discover that you’re already on your way to your next adventure.
Provide guidance when you hit a crossroads.
Whether you want to start a business, return to school, or rise through the ranks, don’t make big changes lightly. Mentors who have seen the consequences and rewards of major decisions can provide context to help you make the right calls.
Bill Gates may be one of the richest people in the world, but on the path to success, he suffered plenty of sleepless nights over decisions that could make or break his company. Gates found wise counsel in Warren Buffett, who had already made his fortune when Bill was just getting started. The two still speak often about the world and their places in it, and Gates gives Buffett plenty of credit for the way his career turned out.
“I pick Warren as somebody I have learned an immense amount from, just hearing his stories of how he dealt with tough situations, how he thought long-term, how he models the world,” said Gates in an interview. “If you get a chance to spend time with people like that, it's fantastic.”
Introduce you to a broader network.
When you work with someone who has wisdom to share, that person usually knows far more people than you do. Never treat your mentor as the gatekeeper to bigger and better friends — not if you want them to stick around — but do take advantage of opportunities to engage with people in your mentor’s network you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
As your social circle grows, you’ll start to hear a wide range of conflicting opinions about what’s best for your career or business. Think carefully about which voices you prioritize. Remember that you’re the captain of your own ship, and you alone are responsible for where you end up.
“Even when you have a great network of external mentors at your back, the complexity of being the entrepreneur is sifting through the various opinions of an incredibly smart group and determining the right path for your specific business,” says Michael Barlow, CEO of Fernish.
Take some time today to thank your mentors for their advice and presence in your life. No matter what your dreams may be, you have a better chance of achieving them with a great team on your side.