Why Do I Need A Mentor

Jan 8th, 2012 | By | Category: Career advice

Why do I need a mentor? Fair question. On the surface there are plenty of people who achieved a very successful career on their own. Most of the “How to Succeed” books I have read usually don’t even mention a mentor. The hero or heroin may discuss all the attributes and skills they were either endowed by the gene pool, or developed through discipline and hard work. There is almost never a mention of a mentor.

However, it seems odd that with so many formulas for success available, most careers end up mediocre at best. Work hard, don’t make enemies, give the customer what they want, the list of keys to success is endless, but our personal observations in the workplace does not support the advice. There are those who appear to zoom to the top of the career ladder, who have nothing special about them. They are not the sharpest tool in the shed, they don’t carry the heaviest load, nor are they especially charismatic. Somehow these “top performers” always end up in the spotlight, getting awards, shepherding high profile projects, and attending prestigious meetings. It is almost like they have a map to the stepping-stones to success.

Over the years I have come to the realization that most of us are average. There are some who are blessed with special talents, like a great signing voice. Something no amount of practice can replicate. Even those with a unique skill or talent do not always achieve fame and fortune. There are countless people with skills and talents who receive little or no recognition for their special gifts. Just as an illustration, Susan Boyle, who is now a signing sensation, sang in relative obscurity for most of her life. Were it not for her appearance on American Idol she would have most likely never achieved fame and fortune.

Most success stories are more often than not average people with no special talents, who climb the success ladder, or develop a successful idea, product or service. More often than not the person who ends up at the top of the ladder is not person, who created the venue, which made them rich and famous. Carnegie did not invent steel, the railroad tycoons did not create the steam engine, Bill Gates did not invent the computer, or computer code, Steve Jobs did not create all those novel Apple devices, and apps, and the Internet has made several billionaires who were able to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Internet. Often the inventors, those who had the great idea, spent countless hours perfecting and developing new products and services, profit the least.

So what is the differentiating characteristics if it is not the often touted, genetics, extra effort, nor genius? For a long time I thought it was luck. Many of the classic corporate legends emerged when industries were in their infancy. – Railroads, Steel, Oil, Banking, Computers, Internet, etc. Timing was everything. Once the pie was sliced, served and eaten, there were only crumbs left. Could another Carnegie emerge in the steel industry? They did. In the 70’s Japan, then Germany captured control of global steel making, bankrupting and essentially destroying the American steel industry. More recently, India is becoming a major force in consolidating steel mills around the globe. Could Bill Gates make his fortunes now computer operating systems are more or less standardized. While there have been several new operating systems introduced and produced billionaires, none has caught Bill Gates yet, but hopefully computer technology will evolve and new technology and operating systems will emerge. Will there be another Bill Gates? I would bet on it.
While there was element timing in luck, but there is a good chance these people may have emerged as world success stories even if they were not able to get in on the ground floor of an infant industry.

In my own experience and observing and studying the careers of others, there is one salient thread that runs through almost everyone’s career advancement. Although most, but not all did a good day’s work, most were not workaholics, most were of average intelligence and skill level, and were not innovators in an emerging industry. They were staff employees the same as me who managed to recognize opportunities, obtain management support, and artfully self-promote their accomplishments. The same thing we are striving for, but these special few seem to do it better. “What is there secret?” – other people helping and guiding them – mentors.

Mentors who have experience and knowledge can effectively make all the difference by coaching the development of strategies and tactics to map out and effectively use the stepping stones to success.

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