How NOT to Find a Mentor

The origins of the word mentor come from Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, went off to war, he entrusted his son to Mentor. Mentor taught and oversaw the son—Telemachus. In the Scriptures, we see examples of older leaders pouring into younger leaders. Moses invested in Joshua. Jesus invested in His disciples. Paul invested in Timothy. Christian leaders invest in those who are sons and daughters of God so the faith may multiply. Older leaders are responsible to invest in younger leaders.

Yet many leaders have complained that there is no one to mentor them.

While the expressed concern should be concerning, as we must continually hand responsibilities to new leaders with the intent of developing them, the statement is not always an indictment on leaders refusing to develop others. It often reveals that those who seek mentors sometimes seek them in unrealistic ways. The problem is not only or always a lack of leadership development from preceding generations. Often the expectations or the approach are unrealistic and unwise. While it is wise to find someone to invest in you, many do so unwisely. Here are 3 common mistakes I have seen when people seek a mentor:

1. Ask for a long-term commitment.

If you approach someone and ask him or her to meet with you indefinitely for a long period of time, just understand how huge that request is. Few of us have open time slots in our regular rhythm of life. So any “yes” is simultaneously a “no” to something else. So asking for a long-term commitment is essentially saying, “I want you to regularly say no to other things in your life for me.” It is a big ask. If you have the relationship and the trust and your development is on the person’s radar or connected to the person’s role—go for it. But if you don’t know the person or barely know the person, just admit the unreasonableness of it.

Instead, try this. Create a list of a few people you would like to be able to call upon for specific counsel, and only call on them when you need insight on those issues.

2. Don’t read/listen to what they already offer.

If you ask questions on a topic they have written or spoken on and you have not researched what they have already offered, you show you are not really taking your development seriously or valuing their time appropriately. Instead of applying their insight to your specific situation, the leader has to unpack what you could have already read.

Instead, do your homework. Show that you are hungry to grow and develop and have prepared for the time together.

3. Don’t show the impact.

If the leader leaves a meeting with you and never hears about the impact of the time together, the leader will wisely wonder if the investment is worth it. The last thing the leader wants to do is give counsel to someone who is not going to consider and apply it.

Instead, try this. After meeting with a person, shoot an email or a personal letter with a few actions you will begin because of the meeting. The leader will not only feel affirmed and valued but will see that you are taking this seriously.