How to find—and be—a great mentor

Leadership expert Ken Blanchard and social media maven Claire Diaz-Ortiz, co-authors of One Minute Mentoring, explain how receiving (and sharing) nuggets of advice can lead to a bounty of benefits.

How to find—and be—a great mentor

Look closely at the life story of high achiever, in any field, and you’ll find at least one thing they all have in common: They had great mentors along the way who gave them insights, advice, and encouragement.

The benefits go both ways. “Mentoring another person will help you focus on your own next steps,” write co-authors Ken Blanchard and Claire Diaz-Ortiz in One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor, and Why You’ll Benefit from Being One. They say that’s partly because “the leadership skills you learn as a mentor can make you more valuable to your employer.”

The authors write from first-hand experience. Blanchard, 79, a leadership expert, and Diaz-Ortiz, 32, a former Twitter executive, have what the book refers to as a “cross-generational mentoring relationship.”

If Blanchard’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably thanks to his book The One Minute Manager, which has sold more than 13 million copies in 37 languages. Blanchard, who is head of leadership training and consulting firm The Ken Blanchard Companies (his official title is Chief Spiritual Officer), has since co-written about 60 other books.

Tech innovator and social media expert Diaz-Ortiz was one of Twitter’s earliest employees, and she made news around the world in 2012 by persuading Pope Benedict XVI to start tweeting.

While their experiences and expertise certainly differ, together, Blanchard and Diaz-Ortiz make one dynamic duo.

Monster recently spoke with Blanchard about how to find—or be—a great mentor, and how it can help your career.

Q.  The title One Minute Mentoring might give some readers pause. How much mentoring can you really get—or  give—in a minute?

A. Claire and I have both found that the best advice we ever gave or received was given in less than a minute. That is, the guidance that really made a difference didn’t come in the form of long, complex theories. It came in short, meaningful insights.

Q. Could you give us an example? What was the best brief bit of advice you ever got?

A.  I’ve gotten so many wonderful insights from so many people; it’s hard to pick one example, but it was probably something [restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A founder] Truett Cathy said once. “Who do you think needs lots of encouragement?” he asked me. I said I wasn’t sure, and he said, “Every human being who’s breathing, that’s who.” And it’s true.

Q. How can you put mentoring experience to use in a job hunt? Should you talk about it in job interviews?

A.  Absolutely, yes. You should talk about what you’ve learned from mentors you’ve had because employers like to hear that you don’t think you already know everything, and you’re open to learning. If you’ve mentored anyone else, that’s important because it teaches you valuable leadership skills, especially listening skills, that companies want and need. Interviewers are always looking for people who know how to nurture talent, and who are enthusiastic about doing that. It’s to your advantage to mention it, even if the interviewer doesn’t bring it up.

Q. Once you’ve been hired, how do you find the right mentor in your new job?

A. One good way is simply to ask your new boss, “Is there anyone in the company you think I should go to as a mentor? How about you?” It’s always interesting to get your new manager’s perspective on that, and it shows him or her that you’re interested in learning as much as you can.

But potential mentors are all around, once you start looking for them. A mentor doesn’t even necessarily have to be in your field. He or she also doesn’t have to be someone senior to you where you work. For instance, I’m 79 and Claire is 32, and she has taught me an awful lot, especially about technology and social media.

Q. What about choosing a mentee? If someone asks you to be their mentor, how do you decide whether to say yes?

A.  On either side of the relationship, whether mentor or mentee, it’s tremendously important to find someone whose personality and values are compatible with yours. So take your time and get to know the other person before you commit yourself.

One thing I learned from [minister and author of best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking] Norman Vincent Peale, who was a friend, is the difference between essence and form. By form, he meant the operational details, like how often you’ll meet, whether in person or by phone or email, and so on. But essence has to do with who someone is as a human being. Are they simpatico? Are they all about themselves? Don’t jump to form before you’re sure about essence. Getting this in the right order makes all the difference in the world.

Q. How do you measure success as a mentor? Is there a way to tell that you’ve been good at it?

A.  Apart from the obvious—your mentee gets promoted, for example, or goes on to great success in one way or another—is what Claire and I call “review and renewal,” where you periodically take a look at where your relationship stands.

Listen carefully to the feedback you get from your mentee. Does he or she want to renew the relationship? Or, does the person feel there’s no more to be learned from you? Nothing wrong with that! Someone who’s perfect for one phase of someone’s career may not be right for the next phase. The great thing is, by asking your mentee for an honest review now and then, and being truly open to hearing it, you can learn a lot about yourself that you’d probably never find out in any other way.

 

Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics for Fortune and other publications since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?