By Kathleen Quinn Votaw
A mentor is like nothing else in your life. If you don’t have one, find one. If you’ve already arrived, I hope you’ll become one. Mentors guide us to a new destination in life, and sometimes we don’t even know where that is. They teach us to be the best at what we’re to become.
Mentors have walked the path before you and have been to the places you’re headed. They offer you life and leadership skills, vision and perspective, wisdom and feedback. They present new experiences and connections, and a place to test your ideas. They lift your performance, increase your confidence and provide opportunity. Perhaps most important, mentors have already failed and can make sure that you don’t. They ask the right questions and help you identify risks and avoid land mines.
If you ask successful people how they got there, inevitably they mention at least one important mentoring relationship somewhere along the way. Actually, it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone can be the best that they can be without the guidance of a mentor. Some of my richest relationships have been with mentors. I’ve been very lucky …
My first mentor was my father. Because he believed in me, I believed in myself. Dad instilled my values and gave me confidence. His early and ongoing mentoring has made me a better person overall—and a better wife, mother and friend. He is in large part why I became me.
I met another important life mentor, David Mead, in the late 1990s. For no other reason than he saw a spark in me, a young woman trying to succeed, he began to open doors in my professional life. He introduced me to the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) and to a world I barely knew existed—the world of venture capitalists, investment bankers and deal making. Over 15 years, Dave guided and advised me as I became an ACG board member and then president of the board, and have grown my business to heights I may not have contemplated without his mentoring. I thank Dave most for expanding my vision.
Mentoring relationships develop and nurture you into the next best version of yourself—whatever that might be. I believe strongly that people are working toward a better self; and mentors are the guides to get us there. If you want to reach the highest peaks, you hire a Sherpa to guide you. If you want to be a leader, you need a mentor.
I have had many mentors between and since my dad and Dave Mead. And I am now a mentor. I get particular satisfaction in mentoring young women much like myself of not too many years ago. One of my mentees recently became the 30-something CEO of a $40 million company. And am I proud of her! Mentoring is an immensely gratifying way to help someone else succeed, and to thank your own mentors by paying it forward.
The great thing about mentoring relationships is that they don’t need to follow the traditional elder-junior model. They can be with anyone, anywhere. You can find a mentor or be a mentor in peer-to-peer relationships, across functions or industries, and in personal or professional situations—formal or informal. Mentoring is about filling skill or knowledge gaps, sharing, and growing.
Mainly, mentoring relationships are about caring enough to invest your time in another person, whether you’re teaching or learning, so that you both successfully reach your destination—wherever it turns out to be.