A mentor-mentee relationship offers many potential benefits, so it’s no surprise that companies place extreme importance on it. A survey by Sage found that 93% of small- and medium-sized businesses believe a mentoring program can help their employees succeed.
Even among executives, there is a desire for coaching. A study by Stanford found that nearly 100% of bosses say they would like to receive outside coaching (currently only one-third actually does).
Clearly, mentorship can be a saving grace for professionals at any level. While we should all seek out professional feedback when given the chance, the Miyagi to your Daniel-san won’t be available all the time to guide you. Rest assured, though, that there are steps we can all take to carry on our mentors’ work in their absence.
It’s up to you, after all, to keep your mentor’s lessons going between sessions. Here’s four ways to harness your inner- mentor on the journey toward self-improvement:
1. Take tangible steps to educate yourself
Mentors give clear guidance on what we should be learning. What better to supplement their lessons than self-education?
After all, we live in the Information Age and have so many ways to learn. As a believer in lifelong learning, here are a few ways I keep my saw sharp: Take advantage of this by doing the following:
- Read constantly: Stay updated on knowledge and trends in the industry by reading relevant blogs and books. Learn about leadership in general as well. For instance, for entrepreneurs, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't by Jim Collins shares experiences, thoughts, and actionable advice for building and growing a successful business.
- Listen to other leaders: Make a point to have interactions and conversations with leaders when the opportunity presents itself, like at a conference or over coffee with an industry colleague. Chat with bosses and talented colleagues, and reflect on their best practices. Listen to everything from podcasts to YouTube videos to TED talks. Additionally, utilize Q&A sites, like Quora, which allow folks to ask questions and get answers from thought leaders in your field.
- Absorb information: Nuggets of wisdom are all around us. We must keep our eyes, ears, and mind open. Work on becoming an effective observational learner by identifying traits, behaviors, and language of others that work successfully (and then adapting them to fit your personality and situation appropriately).
2. Be confident! Trust your abilities and instincts
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
I just love this quote. It’s aggravatingly true. If we get rid of common fears that afflict us, such as fear of inadequacy, uncertainty, failure, change, or rejection, we can finally work on unleashing our abilities. Overcoming fear of judgment or inadequacy allows us to seek mentorship to begin with, and it can be a humbling step.
But becoming truly confident takes a lot of effort on the back end, too, so to speak. When your mentor isn’t available, which will be often, get to work mastering the things you need to close the gap between where you are now and where you could be. During the whole process, put those new skills into action and treat failure and mistakes as a learning experience. Continue pushing forward.
As Michael Jordan once stated, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
By learning and having the courage to just do it, we can improve and increase our faith in our abilities and instincts. Remember: We’re not born with or without confidence. As Barrie Davenport, a certified life passion coach, stresses, we’re not confined to low self-confidence, as “self-confidence can be learned, practiced, and mastered — just like any skill.”
Once you have that confidence, the negative voices will be silenced. The road in front of us will open up. And nothing will hold us back from going ahead.
3. Ask yourself the right questions — and act
Great leaders ask great questions. It’s how solutions and direction are found. The right questions can change everything, and good mentors interrogate us in ways that spark the ambition within.
When your mentor isn’t free, you might pose the question, what would my mentor ask me?
Determining which “right” questions to ask will vary from person to person. But you’re continuing your mentor’s work by honing in on those game changing questions when you have the courage to address the tough things. For instance, if a new entrepreneur who has just launched her first startup stumbles upon a ‘’sure bet” for next venture, the wrong question might be: “How am I going to win and get ahead if I don’t stretch myself?” But the right question could counteract that do-it-all and do-it-all-at-once impulse: “How could this potential new opportunity possibly derail the progress I’ve already made with my company?” Asking that question takes patience, and patience requires fortitude.
Second, we must craft our questions to be solution-focused. We must get away from asking questions that lead to unhealthy self-criticism or self-deception. Robert Pagliarini, a successful certified financial planner, insightfully writes that “whatever you ask you will answer,” which is why asking the wrong questions only leads to more problems.
For example, a business owner in the early stages of growing a company may ask himself, "Why can't I land any new clients?" This line of questioning will cause discouragement and frustration, and may even lead the person to confine himself to the false reality that he’s “unqualified,” “a poor communicator,” or “not likeable.” Those certainly aren’t helpful mental refrains to have running in your head whenever you meet with potential clients. A better approach is to ask solution-focused questions, such as: “What can I do to make myself shine during my next client presentation?” and “What skills can I add to make myself stand out?”
By asking both tough and solution-focused questions, we can see how to enact positive change. Then, we must motivate ourselves to act, with or without the encouragement of our mentor.
4. Challenge yourself and mark your progress
Regardless of where you are on the career ladder, there is room to go higher and grow. There are many ways we can challenge ourselves in our mentors’ absence. These include:
- Learn a difficult but needed skill: As Cornell University research has discovered, “practice makes perfect” has a neural basis in the brain. When you learn something new, the skill gets easier to do because there is a shift to a more efficient configuration of brain networks.
- Ask the boss for more responsibility: It will show initiative, and perhaps provide an immediate opportunity to accomplish more at work.
- Ask for feedback: This can be tricky and sometimes scary. Jaime Petkanics, a talent acquisition expert, recommends asking managers and bosses about both strong and weak points, along with details and examples. Their answers will highlight what can be done to eliminate weaknesses and capitalize on strengths.
- Set tangible short-term goals: Whether it’s meeting all the deadlines for the month or getting a new client before the week is over, short-term goals keep us motivated. And they can help us achieve greater things in the long term.
As we challenge ourselves, we must hold ourselves accountable. That means finding objective ways to track progress. Improvements will come with the right strategy.
Guide yourself forward
By definition, a mentor is a trusted counselor or guide. Having one can mean the difference between success and failure. With an objective approach centered on bringing about positive outcomes in our professional and personal lives, we can carry on the hard work of those we look up to, acting as our own guides to help ourselves tremendously.