Mom and Dad were there through our growing pains, teaching us the difference between our left and right. Right and wrong. And how to deal with the strong emotions of love and hate. A time will come when you’ll need more assistance beyond your parents’ tutelage. Early in my career, I admitted to myself I wasn’t Superman and needed help from an outside source. Granted that realization came after my “terrible trifecta” where I unwittingly embarrassed myself during three interviews (radio, newspaper and television). I wanted someone, a mentor, to show me how to fly, leap buildings in a single bound and prevent stumbling through another talk show. I decided to follow the three Ls: List, Look and Learn, to find a mentor.

Before you ask anyone to invest their time in your future success, write a wish list of what you want, both from yourself and from your mentor. Let this list be as long as necessary – mine was large enough for its own zip code.

I wrote things like, “I want to speak professionally when I talk about my books” and “Why was I so antsy during the interview?” Be honest. Write every candidly crazy question to discuss with your mentor during step number three, the Learn phase.

A mentor is someone you admire and respect. Often he or she works in your chosen career. Observe this successful person and analyze the qualities, values and traits exhibited then add those elements to the list you made in phase one.

I watched TV interviews and added dozens of positive attributes and nearly a hundred bad habits I hoped to never portray. Learning from other people’s mistakes taught me volumes.

Look at local leaders in your profession. Ask them a question or two seeking their advice. Absorb their comments and communication style. Determine if this person would be a good fit for you and could motivate you to do your best work.

The List and Look phases provide many opportunities for introspection and self-awareness. Revise your listing from the size of a telephone directory to a top ten prioritized list. Now you’re ready to approach your prospective role model to pop the question: “Will you be my mentor?”

Either answer is good news. A “No” – an honest and fair response – may mean they don’t have enough time to devote to this endeavor. “Yes,” denotes additional discussions will take place.

Show the work you’ve completed so far (both lists) then set goals and ground rules. Determine boundaries of confidentiality, accountability, time commitments and realistic expectations. A good mentor will listen and facilitate, fostering self-confidence and personal growth. I found this to be true from a highly structured mentoring program within Toastmasters.

Mentors help you capitalize upon your strengths and overcome your personal kryptonite. They provide a fresh perspective to real and perceived obstacles you face by suggesting alternatives instead of telling you what to do. Their empathy and experience will provide you the necessary guidance to build your own network and become successful.

Everyone one of us have had a mentor. These days we gather knowledge from workshops, seminars, lectures, podcasts or even e-learning. But one-on-one training is still out there. Just follow the three Ls (ListLook and Learn) and find your mentor. Then one day you’ll make the transition from apprentice to role model. Instead of learning by example you’ll be leading by example.

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