Perhaps the most important instruction a good leader will ever give you is “follow me”.
Since we all come into life with no prior experience or dress rehearsal, the way to make the best out of your lifetime is to find, probe and follow a person who is worth your trust.
Dr. John C. Maxwell puts it this way,
it is hard to improve when you have no one but yourself to follow.
Who should you follow?
Well, the specifics are as many as butterfly species but there are common denominators.
1. A good mentor is a worthy example
Followership is inevitable. At every point in your life, you are being influenced by someone and someone is being influenced by you. It’s the natural pattern.
Even our social media platforms are modelled after this reality.
They display your followers and those whom you follow.
Does that ring a bell?
Here is the catch, you may not have the liberty to choose who follows you but you can choose who to follow.
However, with choice comes responsibility.
This is why as a young man or woman in any industry, your greatest responsibility to your future self is to choose the right person to follow.
When choosing, probe who they are outside their familiar space.
It is self-deceit to think that you will only model a person’s professional life and somehow filter out the rest. Except you set healthy boundaries in that relationship, things would spill.
Now that you have the control, probe the lives of your prospective mentors before starting that relationship.
Ensure that they are worthy examples.
2. A good mentor is available
Like I mentioned earlier, mentorship is a relationship. One basic element of a flourishing relationship is availability.
When seeking for a mentor, don’t shoot too high too early. The reason is simple. To grow, you need references that you can see and relate with on a closer level. Shooting too high would rob you of that.
If tennis is your profession and you’re gunning for Roger Federer, that’s plausible but not realistic. The reason is simple, Federer is on a whole different league. He can be your role model but not a mentor.
A mentor must be available to instruct, correct and guide you.
3. A good mentor has proven experience
The Chinese proverb goes, “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back”.
Here’s a rule to remember, never ask for guidance from people who haven’t been where you want to go, done what you want to do and gone where you want to go.” Its suicide!
Chances are that their lack of experience would kill your dream or worse, put you on the losing side from the very start.
4. A good mentor has the requisite wisdom to guide you
Few things are as sad as choosing a mentor who lacks wisdom.
The bible worded it like this,
…if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.Matthew 15:14, NKJV
This is corollary to my first point.
Perhaps one of the greatest leadership pieces of advice for young starters is to never mistaken the talent of a leader for their character.
Fred Smith puts it this way,
never confuse the giftedness of a person with the person.
Again, I am reminded of that part of the bible which says,
He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.Proverbs 13:20, NKJV
A good mentor is not one who is merely skilled. A good mentor has the requisite wisdom to help you replicate their results.
5. A good mentor provides you friendly support
The first step to true mentorship is a relationship. A relationship built on trust, friendship and informed loyalty.
A good relationship is important for two reasons.
For the protégé, it serves as an emotional cushion for the intensity of lessons you will have to learn. Sometimes, a mentor’s instruction may sound so harsh that it would take some reassurance—of their love and care—to help you realize that it’s all for your good.
Correction without a relationship sounds cold. Instruction without support is sterile.
For the mentor, a relationship serves as an assurance that your instructions, corrections and praises will be accepted in good faith. It is a guarantor that your investment of time and energy is not a waste after all.
More than a growth ladder, a mentor is also your friend. It means you can rely on his assurance and encouragement when you face reversals. It means he can listen to your worries, sense your fears and offer you the companionship required to endure the hard times and celebrate the good times too.
One More Thing: A good mentor is not your playmate
To balance things up, a good mentor is not your play mate.
In Africa, respect and courtesy forms the crux of a successful mentoring relationship. The same is true in other climes.
To call your mentor by his or her nick name or some parlance only used by friends could spell trouble. You don’t want that.
No matter how free a mentor is to you, your job it is to continually make the difference clear through what like to call tokens of honour.
Find out their areas of need and seek to fill it. Look for what they cannot do for themselves and offer help.
Is your mentor organizing or hosting an event? Volunteer!
A good mentor is not easy to find and so when you find one…
Get committed: Pay for their time if you have to.
Be Consistent: Meet purposefully every month. Or engage them online.
Be Creative: Start with their books
Be Intentional: Invest 2 hours in preparation for every hour of interaction.
Be Reflective: Invest 2 hours in reflection for every hour of interaction.
Be Grateful: Mentors are gifts to your personal growth: ensure to let them know.
Your greatest asset in a mentoring relationship will be your observatory skills. Your ability to learn without permission.
Growth is hard if all you have to follow is yourself.
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