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“The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn”. Bertrand Russell, Mathematician, philosopher and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

One of the best things you can do when faced with these ‘bridges’ is to turn to a mentor for help.

Take a bit of time to think about someone that has been an inspiration to you and has given you good advice. When I ask this question in workshops, most people think of their parents, or occasionally they’ll mention their partner, their boss or an old teacher of theirs. In one way or another, we’ve all had the experience of receiving advice and of being grateful for it. However, having a mentor goes beyond this. It means coming to an agreement, sometimes an unspoken one, based on trusting someone who takes an interest in your personal and professional development. What’s more, this person isn’t necessarily a member of your family or a friend. There isn’t such a big tradition of mentoring in Spain as in the United States. Even so, when you have the chance to experience it for yourself, the results are really excellent for both parties.

If we want to know what being a mentor is all about, the first step is to go back to Greek mythology and to one of its great travellers, Odysseus, the king of Ithaca. When he set out to fight in the Trojan War – a journey that lasted “only” twenty years -, he entrusted the education of his son, Telemachus, to his good friend Mentor, who is none other than the goddess Athena. (In other words, he couldn’t have got anyone better.) The word mentor has now come to describe someone who acts as a counsellor or guide and shares their experience and knowledge with the person who is being mentored.

What are the benefits of having a mentor? In a word- many. Sometimes we dream up scenarios which can be out of touch with reality. Sharing our aspirations and concerns with someone who is very experienced helps to ground our fears, to give practical shape to our dreams and to form action plans to achieve them. We’re not necessarily talking here about setting up formal meetings with a pre-agreed agenda. Often, a mentoring relationship will be characterized by relaxed conversations with someone you admire and are inspired by. In my own case, I have had the good fortune to be able to count on the help of mentors throughout my life. I remember that, when I was at secondary school, the parents of a friend of mine were like mentors to me and helped me to take some important decisions at that time. (In fact, thanks to them, when I was 16 I started to get interested in personal development workshops.) Many other people have fulfilled the role of mentor later in my life, but perhaps one of those who had the biggest impact on me was Pedro Luis Uriarte, who I admire as a leader. When I was writing the book NoFear in 2005, I had the chance to interview him. He had been the CEO of the bank BBVA and was going through a period of transition in his life. After that first interview, he very generously offered to read the manuscript and, in the future, to talk about whatever I was working on. We met on several occasions, and I remember that his advice and experience were a source of great inspiration. Ever since then, we continue to meet up now and again, and I still ask his advice about certain decisions that I am not sure about.

In this particular case, Pedro Luis took the initiative. In general, from what I’ve seen in my own life, when someone is willing to listen and makes a conscious effort to be with people who are more experienced, the possibility of them becoming mentors crops up at some time or other. As I mentioned before, this relationship won’t necessarily be stated openly; it may be a tacit agreement between the two parties.

Apart from these informal mentoring arrangements, there are also formal mentoring programmes which are carried out in some companies In these initiatives, each mentee is assigned a mentor and a series of encounters is agreed upon. Some companies have evaluated the impact of these programmes. A Spanish bank, Banesto, came to the conclusion that its branch managers’ handling of unpaid loans was three times better than the average when the manager had a mentor. That’s pretty good.

Even if the company we’re at doesn’t offer us the chance to go on a mentoring programme, we can still have a mentor in our own life. Of course, this means finding someone who is generous enough to offer; however, this will only happen if we go out of our way to spend time with people who have a lot of life experience and, moreover, we show interest, a proactive attitude and a receptive mindset.

Take-away

A mentor is someone who inspires and advises us. We will only find a mentor if we are open to the idea of having one.

Tips

  1. Think about someone you know who could be a good mentor to you: someone who inspires you and gives good advice, although obviously it’s up to you in the end to decide what you do.
  2. Suggest meeting up. Talk about the issues that are on your mind, and be open and receptive. If you’re not, the mentor could lose interest very quickly.
  3. Think about becoming a mentor yourself. If you have experience and lessons to share, take the time to help others.
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