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The Mystery of the Mentor

Having a mentor can accelerate a person's professional growth... but how does one go about finding the right mentor?

In my first formal training position, I had the good fortune of working for a boss who had a strong presence, knew how to navigate organizational politics, and could teach me a thing or two about learning and development.

I was only in that position for six or seven months, then both my boss and I left the company – he left for grad school in Australia and I left to move across country. We still keep in touch, and I’m glad we have. I still value his insights.

I feel lucky that I stumbled into such a situation. What about people who have never had an opportunity to engage with someone who could turn into a mentor? My colleague, Tim Waxenfelter, recently had some thoughts about the importance of finding a mentor and is sharing them in today’s Train Like A Champion post:

I’ve always wanted a mentor. I’ve never had one. I’ve always been jealous of friends and colleagues who could point to one or more mentors. I could never quite explain how they were able to end up with mentors while I didn’t.

I recently stumbled on the answer. I have looked at the guitar that sits on the other side of my office and wondered when I’m going to start practicing again. I’ve owned the guitar for over two decades. I can play a bunch of chords and some other random things like scales and arpeggios. Yet I can’t accompany my 9 year old when he plays a song on the violin.

Even in recent years I’ve been able to teach myself new skills such as computer coding. For some reason, however, when I wanted to learn guitar I was telling myself that I couldn’t see a path forward. I couldn’t discern a strategy for learning guitar.

I called a friend who is a self-taught professional musician hoping that he could recommend a good teacher. I figured that if I had to go to a class, I would try to avoid embarrassment and practice. It didn’t really work for a one-credit guitar class in college, but I could try, right?

After an hour on the phone with my friend I had a new plan. I would work on one song per month and send my friend a recording of me playing that song. He promised to give me feedback and to offer ideas for how to move forward. In a one-hour phone call he had helped me find direction. He had also become a mentor.

So that’s how it works! The key for me was that I needed to be motivated to learn and do and I needed to be in desperate need of help at the same time. In my professional life I’ll have to find a way to ask for help from a potential mentor without the desperation… or at least without sounding desperate. Now that I’ve found a mentor once, why not again?

Do you have a mentor that helps bring your L&D efforts to the next level? What tips would you offer to someone else in search of mentorship?

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