Your friend recommends a song that becomes your new go-to workout anthem. Your boss teaches you a trick that shaves minutes off a task. Your father tells you a joke that you repeat at parties for years to come. Whether we know it or not, we become like those we spend our time with. And in no area is this more true than our personal development.
A mentor is one of the most fulfilling and fruitful relationships a growth-minded person can have, but only if we choose wisely. Our habits, our principles, our daily actions – these are so critical to our personal growth that we must be intentional about what mentors we allow to influence them.
How Your Mentor Should Foster Your Personal Development Goals
As you consider your potential mentors, keep these 5 qualifications in mind:
H3: 1. A GOOD MENTOR IS A WORTHY EXAMPLE OF EFFECTIVE PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PUBLICLY AND PRIVATELY.
We become like the people we admire and the models we follow. For that reason, we should take great care when determining which people we ask to mentor us. They must not only display professional excellence and possess skill sets from which we can learn, they must also demonstrate character worthy of emulating.
Many athletes, celebrities, politicians, and business leaders today try to disavow being any kind of role model when others are already following them and mimicking their behavior. They want people to separate their personal behavior from their professional life, but such a division cannot really be made. Religious leader and author Gordon B. Hinckley advised,
It is not wise, or even possible, to divorce private behavior from public leadership—though there are those who have gone to great lengths to suggest that this is the only possible view of “enlightened” individuals. They are wrong. They are deceived. By its very nature, true leadership carries with it the burden of being an example. Is it asking too much of any public officer, elected by his or her constituents, to stand tall and be a model before the people—not only in the ordinary aspects of leadership but in his or her behavior? If values aren’t established and adhered to at the top, behavior down the ranks is seriously jeopardized and undermined. Indeed, in any organization where such is the case— be it a family, a corporation, a society, or a nation—the values being neglected will in time disappear.
As you look for role models and mentors, scrutinize their personal lives as carefully as their public performance. Your values will be influenced by theirs, so you shouldn’t be too casual about who you choose to follow.
2. A GOOD MENTOR IS AVAILABLE TO INFLUENCE YOUR PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.
Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie said, “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” For us to be able to observe models up close and see what they do, we must have some contact with them. That requires access and availability. For us to be actively mentored, we must have time with people to ask questions and learn from their answers.
When you are looking for a mentor, don’t shoot too high too soon. If you’re considering going into politics for the first time, you don’t need the advice of the president of the United States.Why shouldn’t I? you may be thinking. Why not start with the best? First of all, if you’re just starting out, nearly all of your questions can be answered by someone two or three levels ahead you of you (not ten). And their answers will be fresh because they will have recently dealt with the issues you’re dealing with. Second, CEOs need to be spending their time answering the questions of the people who are on the verge of leading at their level. That doesn’t mean you should never go to the top. It just means you should spend the majority of your time being mentored by people who are available, willing, and suited for the stage of your personal development plan. And as you progress, find new mentors for your new level of growth.
3. A GOOD MENTOR HAS PROVEN EXPERIENCE OF PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20.” It’s usually used as we toss up our hands in frustration at opportunities lost, money wasted, time passed – and usually because we lacked the knowledge or understanding that could have saved us that frustration.
But hindsight becomes insight. Every mistake we could possibly make as we pursue our personal development goals, someone else has already made. And if your potential mentor is worth mentoring you, they have made those mistakes and learned from them.
The farther you go in the pursuit of your potential, the more new ground you will have to break. How do you figure out how to proceed? Benefit from others’ experience. As the Chinese proverb says, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” They have built something that you want to build yourself, and they can show you how.
4. A GOOD MENTOR POSSESSES WISDOM THAT INFLUENCES YOUR PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.
There’s a well-known story of an expert who was called by a company to look at their manufacturing system. It had broken and everything was at a standstill. When the expert arrived, he carried nothing but a little black bag. Silently he walked around the equipment for a few minutes and then stopped. As he focused on one specific area of the equipment, he pulled a small hammer out of his bag and he tapped it gently. Suddenly everything began running again, and he quietly left.
The next day he sent a bill that made the manager go ballistic. It was for $1,000! Quickly the manager e-mailed the expert and wrote, “I will not pay this outrageous bill without it being itemized and explained.” Soon he received an invoice with the following words:
“For the tapping on equipment with hammer—$1.
For knowing where to tap—$999.”
That is the value of wisdom! Mentors with wisdom often show us where to tap. Their understanding, experience, and knowledge help us to solve problems that we would have a hard time handling on our own. They open our eyes to worlds we might not have otherwise seen without their help. They help us navigate difficult situations. They help us to see opportunities we would otherwise miss. And they make us wiser than our years and experience.
5. A GOOD MENTOR PROVIDES FRIENDSHIP AND SUPPORT AS YOU PURSUE PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.
Selfish people will assist you only insofar as it advances their own agenda. Good mentors provide friendship and support, unselfishly working to help you reach your potential. Their mindset is well expressed by business coach and author James S. Vuocolo, who says, “Great things happen whenever we stop seeing ourselves as God’s gift to others, and begin seeing others as God’s gift to us.”
Peter Drucker is often called the father of modern management. Having built his career on knowing how to lead others, he was able to walk the walk as much as talk the talk. Author Jim Collins was long mentored by Drucker, and after Drucker’s death, Collins wrote of him,
[F]or me, Drucker’s most important lessons cannot be found in any text or lecture but in the example of his life. I made a personal pilgrimage to Claremont, California, in 1994 seeking wisdom from the greatest management thinker of our age, and I came away feeling that I had met a compassionate and generous human being who—almost as a side benefit—was a prolific genius. We have lost not a guru on a pedestal but a beloved professor who welcomed students into his modest home for warm and stimulating conversation. Peter F. Drucker was driven not by the desire to say something but the desire to learn something from every student he met—and that is why he became one of the most influential teachers most of us have ever known.
If your potential mentor doesn’t really support you and offer you friendship, then the relationship will always fall short of your expectations. Knowledge without support is sterile. Advice without friendship feels cold. Candor without care is harsh. However, when you are being helped by someone who cares for you it is emotionally satisfying. Personal development comes from both the head and the heart. Only supportive people are willing to share both with you.
Are you a multiplier of leaders?
Multiplying your leadership is one sure way to know that you are growing in your personal development. Leaders who develop other leaders grow better and faster than those who only develop themselves. Who are you developing? Did you know that Maxwell Leadership has a Certification program for people who want to take their growth to the next level and serve others as a coach, trainer, speaker or entrepreneur? Check out John Maxwell’s invitation to you to join his team here.
This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal development resource, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost leadership and personal growth experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for achieving success and significance contains invaluable insights. You can pick up a copy here.