Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor

The business school at the University of Denver where I teach has a robust mentoring program. I mentor several students every year. But mentors are not just important for college students; they can be helpful to you no matter where you are in your career journey.

The term “mentor” comes from The Odyssey. Odysseus entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, to Mentor when he set out to fight the Trojan War. If you remember your Greek mythology, you know that was a very long mentoring relationship. I have been fortunate to have had several mentors in my life and career. All of them shared many of the same characteristics. They all…

  • Were willing to share their wisdom, knowledge, skills, and expertise. In this way, you can benefit from their experience without having to suffer the consequences of gaining that experience firsthand.
  • Had a positive outlook on life. It takes a positive person to give of himself or herself to help another. They helped me through tough times and showed me how to find the opportunity in the difficulties I was facing.
  • Were genuinely concerned about me and my success. In addition to being knowledgeable, they were empathic.
  • Really knew what they were doing. I respected them for their knowledge and skills.
  • Kept growing themselves. All of my mentors were curious and inquisitive. Sometimes the roles were reversed. They asked what I was reading, and then read the books themselves—so they could learn and we could discuss the ideas.
  • Gave me direct, constructive feedback. They held me to high standards. They congratulated me when I met their expectations. They redirected me when I failed to do so—but in a manner where I learned what not to do the next time.
  • Were respected by their colleagues. People who are highly regarded in their field or company make the best mentors.
  • Sought out and valued the opinions of others. My best mentor always told me to listen most carefully to the people with whom I disagreed—in that way I might learn something. And, he was right.

Do you want to find a mentor? Just look around you. Who are the people you admire and want to emulate? Watch what they do and do the same.

Finally, while it’s important to have a mentor, it’s equally important to be a mentor. Sharing your knowledge and wisdom is a great way to continue your career growth.