Rethinking mentoring

Robert Way
Wed 14 Jun

What exactly is a mentor?

For example, could Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD, be your mentor today?

With advice like, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth,I say yes.

Mentoring is limitless. We are not limited to a person we work with or even a person that is alive today. These are traditional notions of a mentor, but really a mentor can fall into a broader identity spectrum.

With that in mind, what exactly is a mentor? The best definition, in my opinion, can be found in the trusty dictionary. A mentor is ‘an experienced and trusted advisor’.

People looking for a mentor want help:

  • improving their career,
  • developing new skills,
  • growing in their industry, and
  • developing their network of people that have done it.

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

A mentor is a person that:

  • has the success you aspire to have,
  • is doing what you want to be doing,
  • has the skills you want,
  • get paid what you want to be paid, and
  • knows the answers to questions you don’t even know to ask.

When searching for a mentor, look for a person you trust. You value their opinion and that motivates you to be a better version of yourself. Look for a person that wants to teach you and see you succeed. The first place to look to find that person is in your organisation, a person that meets the above criterion.

Consider the following scenario:

You are a new project manager (PM) in your company, you have run a couple of small projects with varying levels of success, but know you want to improve. There is a PM that always manages the big projects; they are the reliable PM, the linchpin of project management in the company. You know this after asking around and after observing them you can see that they are an effective leader, a clear communicator, good at making decisions and are well respected by management. They are the PM you aspire to be.

The quickest way to initiate a mentor relationship is to ask. For this scenario, I would ask the PM if I could shout them a coffee and have a conversation. Successful people want to share what they have learnt and over coffee, I would explain that:

  1. I want to be a better PM
  2. I see them as a successful PM
  3. That I want to learn from them

If they are agreeable to this, over the course of future conversations I would ask their advice on everything project management, how they solve problems, plan and get the job done etc. I would also aim to work with them on a project, to see them in action and learn on the job.

The other strategy you can try is to add value to the person you want to be mentored by. Volunteer to help them (even in your free time), supporting their success will give you the opportunity to learn from them. 

For a person outside of your organisation reach out via social media. Send them a message, introduce yourself, take part in their conversation, like and comment on their posts, ask questions and be curious. Also, remember that other people are doing the same thing, so persistence and consistency will help you succeed at connecting.

The next best place to learn from a mentor is books. For every area of life, there is a successful professional that has written a book on that topic. Biographies and autobiographies are the best places to find the best insight into a person, the things they have done and what worked for them in their life.

When I think about learning from ‘an experienced and trusted advisor’, I am confident to say that I have been mentored by some of my favourite authors, who include:

  • Robert Greene
  • Gary Vee
  • Seth Godin
  • Barbara and Allan Pease

I will say though, over my last 10 years in the workforce, some of the most influential mentors I have had were never officially “mentors”. They had been working for 10 + years, were extremely successful and many times had no time for me. I had to ask questions, solicit their opinion and be willing to show them my mistakes and take their feedback. I wanted success and to follow in their footsteps. Over time, they saw this and gave me opportunities to learn that shaped me into the person I am now.

Don’t be constricted by traditional notions of mentoring, open your mind to other mentoring avenues. Take advice where ever it is available, enrich your experience through learning.


What’s the one thing you don’t do, that would cause the most positive change in your life?