It’s cliché by now that if you want to become successful, you need find a great mentor. Recognizing the importance of mentorship, Pirke Avot council us to find ourselves a teacher and obtain a friend. Both of these are powerful strategies for doing our best work.
A mentor will not only give you advice. Good mentors model with their behavior what the mentees need to learn. They provide encouragement and support in times of difficulty. Just knowing that a person you respect deeply believes in you can become a profound source of inspiration.
Beyond the feel-good support, a mentor can give you suggestions for improvement and valuable critique. Secure in the knowledge that this person values us, we can accept the critique without becoming defensive.
But how do you find a mentor? How can you be sure that this successful-looking person is the real deal and full of hot air? How can you know that she will maintain the confidentiality of the things you tell her? How can you be secure that he will not take advantage of your emotions?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose yahrzeit will be marked this week, suggested a simple litmus test for finding a mentor and gauging whether he or she is a good fit. If you guessed accomplishment to be on the list, it’s not. Knowledge? Nope. Connections? Ah-ah.
Obviously, someone people would seek out as a mentor can be assumed to be knowledgeable and accomplished. And since most accomplished people leverage connections to create success, these can be taken for granted as well.
The Rebbe suggests observing the potential mentor to see if he or she possesses three qualities. The very same qualities the Torah cites as the hallmarks of Jewish People: modesty, compassion, and doing act of kindness.
In a conversation with money coach Debbie Sassen the other day, we talked a lot about the ultimate responsibility of a coach – not to harm the client. This is also the ultimate responsibility of a mentor. A kind and considerate mentor can be counted on not to hurt you, at least not intentionally.
Yet the power of the Rebbe’s message runs deeper than that, for a person possessing these three qualities can truly show you the real path to success.
It is easy for accomplished people to have success go to their head. By choosing a mentor with a degree of modesty, you’ll be assured that they will focus their attention on helping you do better, not on aggrandizing themselves. Let’s be honest, people who are full of themselves aren’t really appealing. By modelling humility even after achieving success, a good mentor may help us avoid the pitfall of an ego trip when you make it.
A parable claims that both heaven and hell look exactly the same. People sit across each other next to lavishly set table, but cannot feed themselves, because their arms don’t bend. In heaven, people feed each other and in hell they starve.
The same is true of business heaven on earth. A compassionate mentor will teach you to pay attention to the needs of others. It is by understanding what other people need and how you can serve them that you will build a successful business. Build something that makes people’s lives better and put it in front of them in a way they can appreciate and voila! You got it. But that takes stepping out of our own shoes and looking at everything from the point of view of our clients. And that takes compassion for their needs, outlooks, and circumstances.
But that’s not all. Nobody can build a great business in a vacuum. It is by understanding what potential partners need and how we can prop each other up that we can achieve twice the success with half the investment and risk. And that can only be done when we are willing to put our egos aside and take the time to explore what our potential partners want.
Still, it is all too simple to stay in the realm of theory. So a mentor who performs acts of kindness will serve as an example of acting on our beliefs. What goes around comes around. If you act with kindness towards your colleagues, business associates, and clients, they will repay the favor. If you look for ways to add value to people’s lives, above and beyond what you sell, they will remember you, respect you, refer you to others, and sing your praises. And, no, I am not suggesting you manipulate people by faking kindness. Because you can’t fake it (unless you fake it, because you believe in it and want to acquire the quality through practice).
In the business world, it is easy to become lost in your own viewpoint, your product, your bottom line. These are important, but turning them into the focal point of your work is the kiss of death. Find a mentor, who will not only support you as you grow. Find the inspirational person who will remind you to stay true to your real self – the modest, kind, and giving person we all want and can be.
What have you gained from your mentor?