How To Identify The Right Mentor

Successful professionals understand the importance of learning the hard skills of their chosen craft. But when it comes to management skills, the value of mentorship is often forgotten. Mentoring is a relationship of purpose wherein Professional A enlists Professional B to assist in his personal and/or professional development. Mentorship is broad and unique to the various industries and stages of professional development.

If mentorship were an actual ship, what would that sea craft look like and how can individuals apply this to their search for the right mentor?


1. Do you need a tugboat?

The tugboat maneuvers vessels by pushing or pulling them. What are the features that the mentee is looking for? The mentee needs someone strong, behind the scenes, understated, and always reliable. A tugboat mentor proves that not all mentors look the same or fit the archetype of the mentorship romance narratives. A mentor who serves like a tug boat will assist those vessels that are unable to propel themselves, whether temporarily due to being disabled by damage or as an assistant for those vessels that are in narrow waters and need assistance with navigation while in a tight spot.

“My mentor said, ‘Let’s go do it,’ not ‘You go do it.’ How powerful when someone says, ‘Let’s!’” — Jim Rohn

Mentors who specialize in categories of business or management skills can be a vital boost to your advancement as professional. A tugboat relationship may be short in duration or enlisted only when certain circumstances require an extra push. Tugboat mentors are available on call or at scheduled intervals, but they know the boundaries of how engaged to be to assist the mentee in building his own success. Tugboat mentorships are often the least expensive, least involved, and serve for specific durations.

Here are some characteristics to assist in the search of a tugboat mentor: look for quiet strength, don’t overlook professionals who have experience but may not fit preconceived notions, confront whether your current needs are to be pushed or pulled.

2. Do you need a freighter?

Cargo ships are designed to carry heavy loads from point A to point B. Freighters are equipped for types of cargo, course parameters, and journey duration. The mentee needs someone who can assist with carrying a current project through to its vision destination. Mentors who serve in a cargo capacity may have more than one mentee who they are working with; they may not provide the highest level of individualized care, but they will help carry the process through to completion.

Freighter may be the most common mentorship scenario, as most professionals don’t seek out this level of transparency or assistance until they are faced with an opportunity that is too heavy, too complicated, or stretches them further than they have traveled in their career.

“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.” — Junot Diaz

Driven people understand that there are mental road blocks on the way to professional development. Seeking the support of another professional to assist in navigation may be the key to breaking through. A freighter relationship may be a longer duration than the tugboat mentor and yet more utilitarian as the parameters of the interaction are tied to objectives. Mentees who have a clearer understanding of what they need are better able to map out and communicate their needs in an agreement between both mentorship parties.

Here are some characteristics to assist in the search of a freighter mentor: try to determine whether your current need is load specific to a type of heavy burden, experiential in nature to a path that must be traveled, or mission-centric.

3. Do you need an aircraft carrier?

Aircraft carriers are some of the most expensive ships in the sea, but they are also fitted with the best in technology for intelligence, offense, and defense. As a mentee who is in need of vision, organization, equipment, and support, the aircraft carrier can provide it all, including the ability to send resources to salvage if the mission has crashed and burned.  Mentors who work in an aircraft carrier capacity may be utilitarian in providing insights into vision charting, course preparation, or operational assistance, or they may be ordered to intercede in a specific mission.

“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” — John C. Maxwell

As an aspiring professional, it is important to keep yourself personally and professionally challenged. The value of this can be multiplied by identifying a suitable mentor who will assist you to navigate the most complex systems of interpersonal relationships within leadership roles. The mentee who understands her needs and has the resources can call upon an aircraft carrier mentor to provide mission assistance, whereas the mentee who lacks clarity may call upon the intelligence and support capacities of her carrier mentor.

Here are some characteristics to assist in the search of a carrier mentor: know thyself, and understand where you are and where you are going. With a firm sense of those two items, identifying a mentor who has mastered the skills you are working on will be much more evident.

Professional athletes have coaches and trainers even though they are at the very height of their professional skills, earning, and influence. Seeking the assistance of someone who can assist you to tug, carry, or chart your way through the murky waters of personal development can be a very positive and fulfilling addition to your professional adventure.

Tell us in the comments about your past or present relationships with mentors!

Jon Isaacson is an entrepreneur who is a friend to facilities and risk professionals, partnering to enhance education, networking and assisting with recovery when the worst of it all hits the fan. In addition to working full-time, raising a family and volunteering, Jon writes, speaks and serves as director of local facilities networking group LFMC (www.localfacilities.com).

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2 Responses

  1. There’s no question that a mentor is what’s needed. It’s where to find the right mentor. I’ve had 2, nice enough but a bad fit. Here’s what I’ve learnt, it’s not because they’re older and make business sounds when they talk that they can instill confidence or direction or enlargment or hope or wisdom. In hindsight, a wrong fit has the opposite effect of a right fit.

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