As the years pass, my idea of what makes a good mentor has changed. When my career began, I thought a mentor was someone I had to see daily that gave me specific instruction. Time has passed and as I have seen different business cycles and trends, I no longer have these same views.
I was meeting with one of my mentors for coffee a couple weeks who ran a very successful small business for a number of years before retiring to a lake community outside of Madison. He now lives the good life running a small consulting practice and following Badger sports. Toward the end of our time together, he said something profound,
"Sometimes the best advice is a plane ride away "
What my mentor meant was that sometimes people who are completely attached to a situation are too vested in it and might not think as objectively as someone who has gathered all the facts. I thought about what he said when it dawned on me the people I go to for advice are not part of my day to day life. While it seems like we both value our time together, we easily go our separate ways and it seems like we pick up right where we left off when we see each other next.
There are many attributes that make a good mentor. Below are five of the more underrated qualities that stand out as profound in my mentors.
1. Shows generosity - By nature, a mentor needs to be generous. They give their time and knowledge to someone who looks up to them. Coincidentally, my mentors refuse to ever let me pay for anything....I always try though.
2. Understands the need for independence - My mentors never tell me exactly what to do, but through watching and observing them, I gather perspective on how to handle different situations. I know and they know they won't be around forever.
3. Values family - Family is important to my mentors. Both of them have said that family is the most important thing to some extent. Both are good at what they do, but they understand that being a father, husband, uncle, neighbor, and community member is equally important.
4. Preaches vision - Vision is something my mentors stress without using the word. They have a good idea where I'm at and ask the right questions - ones that I should be asking myself but maybe am not currently focusing on.
5. Has a broad economic sense - Both my mentors have very broad economic sense. They know what is going on in different countries, different industries, and they are very well-read.
Having a mentor is important but oftentimes hard to find. Identify who you want as a coach to be the hands-off guide that steers you in the right direction, both personally and professionally.