Clearly, mentors can make an incredible impact on one's career. I know; I've had some great ones! Men named Doc Schilke and Jim Johnson made a huge difference in my early professional life. They gave me the opportunities to show what I could do, and, more importantly, they believed in me when less enlightened leaders felt that I was too young to have had the responsibilities that they had entrusted to me. But, I think Doc's and Jim's investment paid-off. By the age of 30, I had written my first business book and started a consulting business that I ran for the nearly 25 years before selling my practice to the firm that I'm with today.
I share this because I'm concerned that the next generation of worker may not know to, or, take the initiative needed to seek out the people that can help them to shape their careers. Jim and Doc were clearly people who were willing to teach, share and guide. But, I had to take the initiative to build the relationships and to ask them for their support and advice. I also had to be willing to hear and act upon what they were telling me. It's that last part, which I'm uncertain about when it comes to the Gen Y worker.
Here's what it takes to be properly mentored and why I think the proposition may pose a challenge for today's younger workforce:
Desire: First and foremost, you have to want it! Regardless of the profession, mentors want to help people who want to be the best at what they do. If things have always been taken care by "helicopter parents," who organized every facet of your life from birth through college, you may lack the motivation to do what it takes to be highly successful in your profession. If you lack the desire to be the best, you probably shouldn't expect that you'll be mentored.
Self-Awareness: The best mentors want to help you to leverage your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. If you lack the necessary self-awareness because you've grown accustomed to being awarded a trophy for just showing up, you may not recognize what you're really good at, or as importantly, what you're not good at. If you're that type of person--Congratulations! You're a mentor's biggest nightmare.
Humility: Assuming that you can get past the first two concerns, you still need to be able to seek out the help that you need to raise your game to the next level. My mentors were really good at humbling me, when I needed to recognize that I didn't have all of the answers, all of the time.
Confidence: A person that wants to be mentored still needs to possess the confidence in their ability to learn and to grow. My mentors often broke me down to build me up. They did this to make me stronger and tougher. But, if I lacked the requisite confidence, they may not have been able to teach me what I needed to learn.
Tenacity: You need to have the intestinal fortitude to stick with it through adversity. Career success will not come easy. Rather, you need to be willing to invest the extra hours and do the tough work required to pay your dues in order to excel at your craft. If you're lazy or give up when things get tough, your mentors won't be of much help to you. You've got to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals.
To sum, my mentors helped me to build a solid foundation for my "business life." They taught me lessons that I carry with me to this day. They made me strong enough to succeed in pursuing and building the career that I wanted. They told me what I needed to hear, which was often, not what I wanted to be told. But, through it all, I knew that they just sought the best for me. I hope that today's next generation of worker makes the effort and develops the solid relationships needed to be mentored.