Someone asked me recently if I had a mentor. I wasn't sure. Did I have a mentor--or did I just have stand-ins that filled that role during a crisis? That got me thinking about the importance of finding a true mentor before you actually need one, and the qualities you should look for in a great mentor.

Great mentor/mentee relationships have been going on for thousands of years. One of the earliest mentors was, well...Mentor, the son of Hercules. In Greek mythology, Odysseys placed Mentor in charge of his son, Telemachus, and his palace when he left for the Trojan War. The trust that Odysseus showed towards Mentor, along with the close bond Mentor had with Telemachus, has characterized relationships between mentors and mentees throughout time.

We even see elements of great mentor/mentee relationships in popular culture. Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler, has been dispensing sage advice to Batman for generations. In The Shawshank Redemption, inmate Andy Dufresne becomes a mentor to fellow prisoners, urging them to "get busy living, or get busy dying." Dickey Fox is a font of inspiration to sports agent Jerry Maguire. "I love the mornings!" Dickey exclaims. "I clap my hands every day and say, 'This is going to be a great day!'" And despite his small size and advanced years ("When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not!") Yoda of Star Wars fame was still providing guidance to Luke Skywalker, pointing out that fear is the path to the Dark Side.

What we see in all of these cases is a connection that goes beyond mere trust. It's a bond of near-psychic alignment--a chemistry that's comparable to what you feel when you're dating someone. It's not just being on the same page as another person--it's being on the same page for an entire book, a book in which you both share the same goals, values and purpose.

A relationship with a mentor is about your personal development, an objective that ultimately becomes as fulfilling for your mentor as it is for you. And while you may find many a potential mentor who is bright, articulate and knowledgeable, these people still may not be exactly the right fit. While you're searching for your mentor, you should look for these five essential qualities:

  1. Trust. This is essential, and is the foundation of any mentoring relationship.
  2. Chemistry. Both you and your mentor will need to understand each other in shorthand. As it is in dating, the chemistry is either there, or it's not.
  3. Availability. Can your mentor be reached on short notice? She's a keeper!
  4. Concern. Your best interests should always be your mentor's top prioritiey.
  5. Lack of agenda. Your mentor isn't using the relationship to advance his own cause.

On the other hand, you should avoid the "tormentor"--the person who may be holding or even setting you back. Beware the bad mentors who are:

  • egomaniacs who use the relationship to talk only about themselves;
  • people who are late for appointments, or who cancel time after time;
  • incompetent, and don't have sound or thoughtful advice;
  • people who can't or don't listen well.

In the end, you don't have to battle the Trojans to find your best mentor. You just need to find that person with whom you have the chemistry necessary to forge the psychic bond that's so vital for this intimate and confidential working relationship.