Ask any career development expert how to succeed in the workplace, and they’ll probably tell you to find a mentor. I couldn’t agree more – I’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible mentors over the course of my life, and they’ve given me immeasurable support and encouragement when I’ve needed it most.
But what does it mean to “find” a mentor? People rarely explain what a good mentor looks like, much less how to go about spotting one.
So, I thought I’d write about it. Without fail, my mentors have fit into what I’ve come to call my “5 mentor archetypes”: the Advisor, the Role Model, the Listener, the Motivator, and the Achiever. Below, you’ll find examples of each mentor archetype – and tips on how to spot the mentors-to-be in your life:
Archetype 1: The Advisor
Ever known someone who had a piece of advice for every situation? Someone you knew you could count on for a handy aphorism or a timely story, just when you needed it the most? For me, that person has always been my dad. He has tips for practically everything, including such gems as, “Never start a sentence with an apology,” and, “Always wear your nametag on the right side of your shirt – that way, when you shake someone’s hand, your nametag will face toward them.”
Behind any good Advisor is an ability to distill life lessons into short, memorable soundbites. I’ll never forget my dad’s “3 Rules of Business,” which have guided my work over the years at Yahoo!, at my own startup, at Google, and now at Change.org. Rule 1: More is better than less. Rule 2: Sooner is better than later. And, of course, rule 3: Don’t work with jerks. (That one has come in really handy.)
To find your Advisor, seek out people who excel at things you want to learn, and ask for guidance. You’ll find that some people, like my dad, always make themselves available to give advice that works, because they thrive on helping others succeed. Trust me – you want those people in your corner, sharing their wisdom and cheering you on.
Archetype 2: The Role Model
The name really says it all, doesn’t it? The Role Model mentors by doing. My mom was, and still is, the quintessential Role Model, showing me through her life that it is possible to have a great career and be a great mom at the same time. With two kids and a full-time job, she got her MBA at night and completely changed careers in her 30s, applying and interviewing for 50 jobs before finally getting one – and going on to become a very successful consulting partner. Yes, she did this with a supportive spouse, but what stood out to me as a young woman was her endless energy, stemming from a deep-seated belief that persistence and passion pay off.
To find a Role Model, look for someone who’s living the life you envision for yourself. Then ask them how they did it. Try to get at the underlying values that drive their work, and think about which ones you might embrace for yourself.
Archetype 3: The Listener
In a world of rapid-fire texts, Tweets, and chat messages, there’s something so unexpectedly fresh and welcome about a real Listener. My first boss, Ham Clark, then the Headmaster at Sewickley Academy, was a fantastic mentor for that reason. He was incredibly wise, and he also showed a depth of caring and belief in me by always listening to what I had to say.
I remember sitting down to talk about Summerbridge, the academic enrichment program I started at his school, and watching him pull out a big yellow notepad, upon which he wrote vigorous notes as I talked. I was 21, fresh out of college, and here was the headmaster of a prominent school actually valuing my ideas enough to write them down. Ham taught me that listening is a skill, and an essential one at that. Because he listened, I made sure to listen in return. He made me feel that what I was saying was important, which caused me to be much more careful with my words. If he was listening that closely, I’d better be saying something worthwhile!
A common mistake when seeking out a Listener is to look for someone quiet and passive. You actually need someone who’s active – an active listener. Seek out someone who’s not afraid to try to “get inside your head” by asking probing questions, as a good Listener has a voracious appetite for understanding, and can make you better because of it.
Archetype 4: The Motivator
I still feel inspired when I think back on the day Cammie Dunaway, formerly of Frito Lay, joined the Yahoo! team as our new CMO. She had such a difficult role: come into a team with hundreds of people and establish herself, still an outsider, as a leader who could inspire people to do their work better than ever before. This daunting task seemed easy when I saw Cammie do it.
Her style was to motivate people by explaining what motivated her. Instead of talking just about work, she told her own personal story, emphasizing what made her want to wake up in the morning – her vision for our company and our team. In the process, she got us to think bigger about the impact of the work we were doing on a daily basis, and she gave people a clear plan for how to get there. And all the while, she maintained an incredibly high level of energy that left people feeling excited to get back to work (plus, she wore purple nearly all the time, showing her love and allegiance to the brand she was stewarding!).
To recognize a motivator, look out for someone who reminds you of your greater purpose. You’ll likely leave conversations with a Motivator feeling energetic and empowered. Each person’s contributions have value, and a good Motivator knows how to point that out to you in a compelling, inspiring way.
Archetype 5: The Achiever
I had the good fortune of working with Jeff Weiner, now CEO of LinkedIn, for many years at Yahoo! and learned so much during that time. Jeff is the ultimate Achiever, setting a high bar for himself and for his team. The pressure to accomplish greatness can be overwhelming – but if you embrace it, that pressure can push you to a level beyond what you think it possible.
I’ll never forget one of my first interactions with Jeff that ultimately that ultimately changed the arc of my career. I’d been on maternity leave for several weeks with my second child, and he called to let me know that people inside the company had suggested I become part of an all-star team he was building to relaunch Yahoo! Search. “If the timing doesn’t work, please don’t feel like you have to do this,” he said, “but we’d really love to have you.” Most other bosses wouldn’t think of calling someone who had just had a baby with that sort of request, but Jeff somehow knew I could do it before I did. Although I didn’t know exactly how I’d make it work, I joined the team (at first just two days a week in the office and three days from home), and it was one of the best professional experiences I’ve had.
Because Jeff consistently set high expectations for what I could accomplish, I became so used to clearing a higher bar that even when I wasn’t working for him any longer, I still set those performance standards for myself and for my teams. I wouldn’t trade that sort of mentorship – even if it was a bit challenging at the time.
It’s easy to identify an Achiever mentor: look for the people who set high standards for themselves and who push you beyond your comfort zone. And, instead of pushing back against their high expectations out of fear of failure, try to live up to them. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.
In addition to the ones I mentioned, there are more mentors in my life than I can count, and I’d like to thank a few more of them, including Susan Dalton, Bill Harris, Rob Solomon and Beth (Lasky) Anderson – among so many others who’ve made a major impact on my life. Interestingly, they all fit into one or more of these five archetypes.
A common myth about mentors is that you’ve got to probe your extended network to find them. In my experience, the best mentors are the ones you already have in your life, without realizing it. An important shift happens in how you interact with your family, friends, coaches and colleagues when you recognize them as valuable sources of knowledge. You start closely examining everything they do and say, from how they structure their day to how they treat the people around them, and in the process, you learn from their wisdom and success.
Take a few minutes to think about the people you work closely with on a daily basis. Do any of them fit into the 5 mentor archetypes listed above? Let me know in the comments.
(article by J.Dulski)