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Having a mentor is kind of like having a gym membership

by Charles Todhunter

I joined CHE Proximity in early March this year – a move I am thrilled to have made. Upon my arrival our CEO Chris Howatson presented me with a book authored by Paul Arden, titled “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.”

When we discuss mentorship, the title of Paul Arden’s book rings true. It is as much about who you already are as it is about who you want to be. This applies to both mentors and mentees.

Similar to a gym membership, simply having a mentor doesn’t implicitly make you better off. It doesn’t guarantee results.

The best mentoring relationships are cultivated out of shared values, where each party has a strong set of goals to work towards. It’s important for the mentee to realise that they can’t be the only beneficiary out of the relationship.

What do you look for in a mentor? What does a mentor look for in you?

These are questions, no doubt, we have all asked ourselves at varying points in our professional journey. I’ve compiled some guiding principles, which I frequently use to make sure that I’m on the right track. I hope they will help orientate you in your pursuit of betterment.

  1. Direction over speed
  2. Authenticity and thoughtfulness
  3. Be deliberate

Direction over speed

Let me assure you, you’re never going to get anywhere quick by simply figuring out the fastest way to get there. A very wise mentor of mine uses the phrase, “to hasten slowly.” It’s a phrase I’ve come to love.

At the same time, think carefully about where you want to be and why. If you’re pointed in the wrong direction it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going. By the same token, if you’re orientated correctly, irrespective of your speed, all progress is positive.

Life is not linear, there will be ups, downs, zigs and zags, but if you’re focused on your goal, the trendlines will be in the right direction. Sometimes when we perceive that progress is negligible, we rush to make a change. This is problematic, as you’re choosing the illusion of progress rather than potentially what really matters to you.

Authenticity and thoughtfulness

It’s important to remain true to yourself throughout your professional journey because adhering to a personal set of values is important. Particularly when you’re looking for a mentor.

Understanding what you value and where to spot those qualities in others will help you align yourself with people in the workplace (and more broadly) who share your approach.

Alternatively, if you are seeking to develop certain qualities in yourself, being able to spot those who exemplify the characteristics you seek is important, as it will be part of what you both share in your mentoring relationship.

Be deliberate

Awareness is critical to being deliberate. If we take the necessary steps each day to hone our craft, to spend time thinking about our goals and where we are going, then you can act with clarity when opportunities arise – knowing the purpose and the intended outcome of your conversations and actions.

Do you need a formal mentor relationship?

If you live deliberately and act with authenticity and thoughtfulness, you’ll find that the direction and relative speed will come naturally.

While having or being a mentor certainly isn’t for everyone. Not having a formal mentor doesn’t mean that this particular form of professional (and personal) development is off limits. Mentoring takes many forms; formal, informal, structured, unstructured. It’s about you, so it’s very much a personal decision and something that can, and often does, take time to make.

Some of the best mentoring can happen informally within the work environment. In the right environment we are all being mentored each day, through observing our colleagues and fulfilling business objectives in our roles; this is often referred to as on-the-job development.

If a formal mentorship is something you’re interested in, make sure you approach it with clarity around who you are and what you’re looking to achieve out of the relationship, as it will help guide you on who, and how, to approach them.

I’ll leave you with a question a mentee and close friend of mine asked me recently: who’s your mentor and why?

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