This is an important question. There are times when you need teachers and coaches, but, In my opinion, you ALWAYS need a mentor or three. Mentors provide guidance and reality checks as you and your career/life develop. A mentor provides ongoing or momentary feedback that helps you focus on what is important to you and to your future success. The big difference is you don't go shopping for a mentor like you might for a coach or a teacher.
I teach, I coach and I also mentor. I am recruited to serve in the first two roles. When I teach I bring a curriculum, an agenda, a set of questions and goals. When I coach I bring questions and I listen, but I drive the content and the subject matter. When I mentor, I listen, but for the most part I let the mentee drive. Mentoring can easily start in the teaching and/or coach environments. But lectures and transmitting knowledge and experience is a small part of the true mentoring relationship. Mentoring depends heavily on the growing set of questions and self awareness of both mentor and mentee. Awareness of the needs and possibilities of both. Some people never get this–that mentoring is a two-way street and consequently they rarely experience mentoring. They may be inspired or their view of themselves may be shifted by a conversation or an insight shared. But mentoring is a persistent process that is defined by the conversation built on trust and truth.
Steve Blank, the well known entrepreneur, recently opined about this phenomenon–people's confusion about these roles and specifically how one acquires a mentor. He mentions how he has received requests to be a mentor while he is on the stage lecturing. Awkward! In this consumer society we think we can just pick a mentor, even ask a total stranger to be a mentor. Mentoring relationships usually emerge from relationships of trust. A chemistry is developed between the two parties over some period of time, it can be rather quick or lengthy, then a deeper sharing of thoughts, ideas, philosophies and advice generates the mentoring. Mentoring is not a commodity. You don't seek it, shop it, and then buy it.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Buddha
As Steve says, "mentoring is a dialogue", it is a higher order exchange, a frank conversation to help each other. Teaching tends to be a one-way flow of ideas. I know that all of these methods are not silos and that they blur into one another, that the lines that define them are at best fuzzy. But mentoring is different.
In fact, the Steve Blank posting was tweeted and shared by a former mentee of mine, who has in turn become my mentor. And the roles have continued to shift and change depending on the subject and the circumstance. This has been a process that has been repeated many times for me–Where the roles over time always reverse and vary. In a mentoring relationship we serve as reality checks, sources of ideas, and instant mentoring partners. When we need each other we are available for one another. Mentoring is a great dialogue, a give and take, a relationship of mutual benefit and trust.
The real question is are you mentorable? Are you ready to be mentored? Really? Are you prepared to be mentored ? A person who has not given any thought to their goals, has not done any soul searching, does not know their strengths, is not passionately curious about their future, is not a good candidate for mentoring. Some people I encounter, young and more mature, hope that the mentor they find will unlock the secret recipe of success and shine a bright and glorious light on their new path to fulfillment and success. I kid you not! They are starving for great wisdom, connections, and insights to be served up on a silver platter from the Iron Chef kitchen of the mentor. They expect to sit back and be served and consume the contents of the dishes and magically life will be delicious. Yikes!
Finding your mentor(s) is a process of meeting people, people you respect, admire, work with, volunteer with, and encounter in your pursuit of your life's work. People that are part of your journey of curiosity and discovery. If you are focused on becoming the best you can be, you will find a mentor and be mentored. Your quest for answers will push you towards people you know and new people you will meet. And some of those relationships will become mentoring dialogues that last months, years, and even a lifetime.
There has been great evidence that mentoring relationships with at-youth risk that last less than 1 year and even 2 years can damage the youth. Why? Because the process of developing trust and mutual understanding takes time, regardless of the great willingness of the participants, time, persistence, the process of showing up and caring, to strengthen a relationship to be able to have the meaningful dialogue. Until that relationship becomes a trusting one, little mentoring benefit occurs. Every mentoring relationship I have had has made me a better person, manager, parent, and leader. And every survey of mentors that I have read, every attempt to understand the benefits of mentoring show that the MENTOR gains more than the mentee. The target of the at-risk youth mentoring or corporate mentoring, always gets less than the mentor. This may sound counter-intuitive, but you would know if you mentored others. That's why I have been advocating adopting a lifestyle of mentoring, because the benefits are so overwhelmingly positive to the mentor and do a lot of good for the mentee. This is proof that the dialogue and the reciprocity are essential to mentoring.
Understand your greatness, pursue your passions, and become the best you can be and you will find mentoring. Seek great teachers, great coaches to hone your skills, your craft, and your questions, mentoring will find you.
Thanks for reading. John