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Be Like Plato—Tips for Finding the Right Mentor

Written By Bart Cleveland | Dec 10, 2015

Socrates mentored Plato, who mentored Aristotle, the father of science. Study any great success and you’ll discover they had more than a mentor. They had the right mentor.

Finding a mentor isn’t easy.

A young Steve Jobs wanted to sell his typewriter. He accidentally walked into the apartment of Robert Friedland. A friendship resulted that helped Jobs overcome an introverted personality and free himself to share revolutionary ideas. “He turned me on to a new level of consciousness,” Jobs said of his mentor. Friedland was the right mentor at the right time. If you want to succeed, you need a mentor sooner rather than later.

It wasn’t the chance meeting that brought Jobs out of his shell. He recognized Friedland had something he needed, and he mined it with enthusiasm. He took advantage of the opportunity. If you are not in the same frame of mind, you are not ready for a mentor. If you are, here’s how to recognize the right one when he or she comes along:

1. The right mentor has done what you want to do. You will do well to study the leaders in your industry and start making connections. I tell my protégés to “quietly stalk” potential employers. The opposite is correct for finding a mentor, however. You’re going to have to introduce yourself. Don’t underestimate your opportunity to be a protégé of a star in your industry.

2. The right mentor is a mentor by nature. I recently heard FCB Global Chief Creative Officer Susan Credle state that great leaders are generous. During your search for a mentor, look for acts of generosity in those you admire. A generous spirit lies in a mentor who’s willing to spend time with you. That time should be treasured and appreciated. Make sure your mentor knows you understand what he or she is giving to you.

3. The right mentor is honest. At the end of every talk I give about career development, I offer a “brutally honest” career critique to everyone in the audience. Those who take advantage of the offer know that most critiques are shaded to protect their feelings. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. But the right mentor loves you enough to risk it and give it to you straight. If you’re not ready for honesty, you’re not ready for a mentor.

4. The right mentor is transparent. Nothing helps you avoid mistakes better than the testimony of someone who shares his or her own failings. In every conversation with a potential mentor, listen for the evidence of transparency.

Finding a mentor isn’t easy. Finding the right one is harder still. It requires dedication and resilience. Most people who need a mentor–and we all do–never seek one out. They let the fear of rejection or other mental hobgoblins dissuade them from acquiring the most useful tool for success.

Maybe that’s why Plato said, “Courage is knowing what not to fear.”

Bart Cleveland has developed branding for a broad range of companies, including: Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, CNN, DuPont, International Paper, Carter’s Baby Clothes, Applegate Organic Meats and James Hardie Siding. In 2012, Bart founded Job Propulsion Lab to help people entering advertising plan and manage successful careers.

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