With so many disruptive workplace trends converging at once, it’s hard not to feel like the target when you’re a leader. But the individuals who succeed in spite of the pandemic, soaring attrition, and seesawing remote and hybrid work have adopted a positive mindset. One of the best ways they’re preserving their optimistic outlook in these turbulent times is by surrounding themselves with positive advisers, coaches, and colleagues.
When I grew up in the housing projects, I was set up to be the perfect victim. I could have easily passed on succeeding in life by blaming poverty and my home without a father. Instead, my mother took the no-victims-allowed position in our family. She knew that if we accepted victimhood, we accepted defeat.
Rather than trapping our future with that mindset, she looked for ways to put people around us who could provide a positive influence and a glimpse of what was possible. It wasn’t long before I had a Big Brother through the nonprofit mentoring program, a church community, and teachers encouraging me to explore opportunities.
I’ve been asked what makes a great mentor, and I love to answer this question because I’m so grateful for the people in my life who’ve influenced me. Three observations about great mentors:
1. Mentors don’t have to know who you are
Here’s the secret: most of my mentors didn’t know they were mentoring me! The idea is to identify a handful of people in your sphere who you admire for their different skills. They should be people you know and see on a regular basis so you can observe how they act. You might identify one person for how they run meetings, another for how they inspire others, and another for how they parent, and so on.
2. Mentors possess self-awareness
No one is perfect, so don’t be tempted to place mentors on a pedestal. Your best mentors are people who recognize their shortcomings. They’re always looking to improve themselves. This is a great attitude that rubs off on you, and in many cases, you can benefit by observing what they learn. Mentors who have a growth mindset are also more likely to embrace failure as a function of learning. They’ll be more likely to share with you what they’ve learned.
3. Mentors take joy in your success
Ask yourself how your conversations start. If your mentor asks probing questions about you, they’re teaching you how to approach topics or people with an inquisitive mind. When they prioritize listening before speaking, they’re interested in pouring into you. This quality is at the core of every great mentor. Bestselling author Adam Grant emphasizes this idea: “The most important quality in a mentor, teacher, or coach is not how much they know. It’s how much they care. Caring is more than taking pride in your success. It’s feeling joy as you progress.”
We can’t always have the answers, especially when we’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, so it makes sense to surround yourself with people who feed your energy. You can put friends, colleagues, and mentors into two simple categories: one group is helping you shine brighter, while the other is not. You can guess which group you need more of.
Start identifying a handful of mentors you can observe, and from there, consider who might be someone you could meet on a regular basis, who might pour into you and take joy in your success. Then, someday, return the favor.
Live your why,
P.S. This post was inspired by the conversation I had with the Black to Business podcast. Visit my Conversations page if you’d like to listen to the full episode, or buy a copy of my book if you’d like a deeper exploration of the stories we discuss!