It seems like having a mentor is the thing to have as successful business person nowadays; or if you simply want to make progress in life. The Internet is full of tips for finding a mentor. See this Muse article for a good overview.
There are even complete step-by-step guides for finding a mentor.
Why we do not need a mentor
The rise of mentors
The concept of a mentor is not a new development though. It was already introduced in the ancient Greece literature; in Homer’s Odyssey to be exact. Odysseus’ son Telemachus was raised by Mentor, an old and trusted friend, while Odysseus was away for the Trojan War and struggling to find his way back home for 19 years.
Nowadays we define a mentor as ‘someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person’. Mentors can be seen as an accelerator for personal and business growth.
Mentors see the potential in us that we do not see ourselves
What we oversee though is that not Mentor has urged Telemachus to go searching for his father. It was not his mentor who advised him what to do. Instead it was Athena, who appeared in the gestalt of Mentor. The Goddess of War was the one that told Telemachus to stand up against the suitors who were claiming Odysseus throne and Telemachus birth right. Athena told Telemachus what to do and convinced him to take action and search for Odysseus.
How do mentors know what is right for us?
Does there not lie a great risk in this? Athena helped Telemachus, but how do we know that this was what Telemachus wanted in the first place? Well, we can argue, that he wanted to protect his birth right and in that way prevented that his mother Penelope needed to marry another men in belief that Odysseys was dead. But then again there is still the fact that Athena tricked Telemachus by appearing in the form of Mentor. How can we assure that she was not acting in her own interest, even though her intentions were good?
This brings up two elementary questions in regard to mentors.
- How can we know that the mentor’s advice is the direction we want to go to?
- How can we make sure that a mentor does not act her own interests on us?
Do we want to put the direction of our business and life in the hands of others?
“No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.” – Viktor Frankl
The underlying question we have to answer for ourselves is to what degree do we want to put decisions about our lives or businesses into the hands of others?
No one else identifies as much with our own ideas as we do ourselves. Someone else can never fully understand our motivation, our drive for why we do what we do. That is simply based on the fact that they have not made the same experiences. Even if they have been in similar experiences their interpretation would differ because of other backgrounds. Each of us is a unique individual. The same experience is perceived differently by two individuals.
That might sound devastating, but it also shows the uniqueness of every individual and that everyone’s ideas are relevant and needed.
Being the first
Of course there are ways to make other people understand – communication for example. We can invest time and effort to explain ourselves. And in an interdependent society transparency is an essential building block.
But even if others can relate to our motivation or situation, how can we find a mentor in a field that nobody has ever been before? We are living in a world where innovation and disruption happens so fast. Customer needs of yesterday have changed today based on new product developments. This raises another problem with mentors:
- What kind of mentor are we looking for if we are stepping into an area nobody has been before?
Is the result worth the effort?
There are some not deniable good reasons for having a mentor.
If we think that a mentor is helpful for our current situation, then there should be no one preventing us from getting a mentor. As in the beginning of this post already shown, there are even helpful step-by-step guides for how to find a mentor.
The only thing I ask is to consider the three problems pointed out with finding and having a mentor.
Let us take a look at what the ‘advantages’ of having a mentor are.
Do we need door openers?
A mentor can, for example, introduce us to his/her contact or network, which could lead to opening doors. But does that not create an environment of favoritism? An environment where knowledge and power stays within a certain circle of people? An environment where people feel obliged to give something back since they have received something first?
What we do not need is door openers. What we need is more people taking initiative to produce value. Let our knowledge and actions speak for themselves, so that others cannot ignore us anymore. If we constantly produce value for others we will get their attention sooner or later. This will open doors for us eventually, because of what we have created. What we need is equal opportunity for everyone.
Do we need teaching from above?
“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” – E.M. Forster
Mentors are often seen as experts for a certain field. That is why we look for advice from them. But the knowledge transfer is only taking place one-way. The senior managers are telling us what they think is the right action or opinion. There is no exchange taking place. The protégée is not contributing ideas or personal insights into the discussion, because it is not a conversation on eye-level. It is a person on a higher hierarchy level telling us what we need to do to reach his or her position.
What we need is an exchange of experiences from seniority positions with new insights from younger generations. We need a conversation on eye-level, leaving out the hierarchy levels, positions or titles; being open to giving and receiving feedback on both sides. Otherwise we will get the same results we have always received, which hinders the chances of development and making progress.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein
What do we need?
It is one thing to criticize the status quo, but it is another thing to come up with solutions which could improve the current situation and make us all better off. Therefore, we will take a look at what we need instead of mentors in the following.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward
We need more openness towards sharing knowledge. Those who have achieved expertise in their task need to be willing to share their insights, so that others can profit from it and go through similar processes and experiences much faster. Do not let the ego stand in the way of it. Reaching mastery will be associated with an expert status. If we want others to reach similar positions we need to inspire them why they should follow us and do what we have achieved. We need to show them what is possible and how they benefit from it.
What we also need is more honesty. Especially about the hard work that is required to achieve sustainable advancement. Building a legacy is not easy. There are no shortcuts to success. It requires hustle every single day. Determination, grid and an intrinsic drive are essential. Working smart instead of just hard can make a difference.
The climb of the mountain, like life, is hard and filled with setbacks. But the rewards and the view from the top are priceless, to rephrase Daniel Monroe Tuttle.
Honesty needs to be part of our feedbacks and how we interact with other people. Be kind, but be honest. If we do not like an idea we should state why. If we like the work of a person we should let them know. Our appreciation can do wonders for their motivation.
Never stopping to learn is what we should adapt. We need to create a willingness to take in the knowledge which is available and start using it to make a change. Definitely we need to learn from the best, but we do not need to become exact copies of them. We should seek inspiration from a diversity of different sources, but only adapting what is relevant for our own specific situation; combining knowledge of others with our own ideas.
“…from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web… We must pick out what is good for us, where we can find it.” – Pablo Picasso
Taking action ourselves
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Ghandi
It is our responsibility to take action. We cannot wait till others will take action for us. If we want to see change then we need to take the first step towards change. That also means before we want to change others we need to start with ourselves. We need to put in the work to create value. It is our own responsibility to transform the idea we have into a feasible product or service. We can get support from others, but the responsibility for success lies in our own hands. It lies in the execution. In that way we can create something truly unique – a thought, idea or eventually a product which has not been there before.
Believing in ourselves
“Everything you need is already inside of you.” – Bill Bowerman
As pointed out, the ideas of every individual are required, simply because they are unique. Having diverse opinions and perspectives creates a basis for discussion and social interaction. What we need is the inner belief that our ideas are relevant. We need to trust in our own opinion; we need to believe in our gut feeling. Only we know what is best for ourselves. Why should we not follow our inner voice then?
What can we achieve with this?
By inspiring others through our own actions and sharing knowledge we are able to motivate others to take action themselves. Through transparency and honesty we are able to show them what really works and why. With giving honest feedback and support we are able to encourage their ideas and motivate them to continue their way. This will create diverse and mainstream opposing ideas and thinking. When we look at this as an opportunity to learn from these fresh ideas, then it can fuel innovation and individual progress that takes places faster than before.
When was the last time that you have shared your knowledge and looked for what you can learn from others?