Why Don’t I Have a Mentor?

August 24, 2012

While in ROTC as a cadet, I recall hearing about mentors. I didn’t know better, so when I initially came on active duty, I waited patiently for someone to mentor me. I figured since everything else was nicely organized in a formal program, if I looked long enough, I’d eventually find out where I could sign up and get a mentor. With hindsight I can see I got the whole concept wrong.

There’s a great deal of value in formal mentoring programs. As a matter of fact, a little later in my career, I had the opportunity to help establish a local chapter of a formal mentoring program. It was a lot of work, but I recall being very pleased that, finally, someone would be able to actually find a place to sign up for a mentor. But mentoring in its very simplest form, is just a relationship. You don’t have to ‘sign up’ to learn from someone else’s experience. Usually, all you have to do is start a conversation.

While I was busy searching for someplace to sign up for a mentor, I am certain I missed countless opportunities that were right in front of me. I did a lot of volunteering for escort duties and formal functions because, well, that’s what you do when you’re a brand new lieutenant. All of those extra duties presented excellent opportunities to meet a host of mentors and ask as many questions as I wanted.

So, what would I do differently, now that I know better?

  1. Don’t try so hard. There are plenty of opportunities for mentoring all around you if you stay open to the possibilities. Mentoring and being mentored is about having a conversation and sharing advice gained from experience.
  2. Ask lots of questions. Understand that everyone has a story to tell. For the most part, people like to be helpful and share what they know. It’s usually a great deal more interesting and informative than talking about the weather and sports, although both subjects are great conversation starters. There are plenty of seasoned leaders who have plenty of ‘I remember when’ stories. Encourage the storyteller that is in each of us.
  3. Stay in touch. Let people know that a bit of advice really paid off. Thank them for sharing; people like to know when they’ve been helpful. Additionally, this is how mentoring relationships are maintained.

The real benefit of being mentored is getting a seasoned second opinion. So, if you need a mentor, ask for one.

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