George Steinbrenner (former owner of the New York Yankees) said that his mentor told him to “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.” Little did he know how easy that was going to be!

Some of the most well-known, highly successful people in all walks of life have pointed out that one of the reasons for their success is having a great mentor.  Anthony Robbins was mentored by Jim Rohn.  Stephen Covey was a mentor to Brian Tracy. At present Marc Zuckerberg is being mentored by Marc Andreessen.  Mentors are not always well known people who work in the same field as the people they are mentoring. They can be family members or others who serve as moral and character guides.  Herb Kelleher (Founder and Chairman of Southwest Airlines) was mentored by his mother Ruth, who told him, “Respect people for who they are, not for what their titles are.” Before you look for a mentor, consider the following. 

Where are you going?

Before you consider looking for a mentor, you have to visualize your future. Where do you see yourself down the road in five, ten or fifteen years? What kind of work are you doing? What kind of a person have you become? Realize that every worthwhile accomplishment has started out as a dream in someone’s mind. After you have your future goals fixed in your mind, ask yourself who would be the best person to serve as your guide on your journey?  What kind of help would be of most benefit to you? Is it technical knowledge, business acumen, or personal guidance? A mentor can serve all these purposes, but usually one is predominant.

Character before qualifications

Before moving on to what you think your mentor needs to know, think of the kind of person he or she needs to be.  Do you have respect for them as a person apart from what they know? Would you be pleased to have them as part of your family?  If the answer to these questions is no, look elsewhere. Even though they may be highly knowledgeable, intelligent and technically brilliant, your subconscious may have a hard time accepting any advice or ideas that come from them.  Bernie Madoff may have been a brilliant advisor in financial matters, but consider if you would want him as your mentor.  A good mentor should always leave you feeling positive and inspired.

Isn’t your boss or judge

In order to grow, we need to make our own decisions and mistakes. A good mentor will allow us to do both. He or she will never tell us what we should or need to do. Instead they will offer and share ideas based on their own experiences.  They will freely offer what has or hasn’t worked for them and leave it up to you as to whether you take their advice. Take from them what is valuable to you and leave the rest.

Open, honest and not ego driven

In order for feedback to be worthy from anyone, it must be honest and forthright.  As well as giving you praise when your mentor thinks you have done something well, it is equally important that they challenge and encourage you to accomplish more when you are struggling.  A good mentor does not get upset or angry when you don’t follow their advice. They are not ego driven and don’t see your success or failure as a direct reflection on their mentoring skills. They accept and know that, like themself, you are your totally responsible for your own success and failure in life.

A history of crediting others for success and a record of service

Effective mentors are people who have a record of service to their community, organizations or groups they belong to. They see beyond their own needs and have a desire to make their community and the world a better place to live.  While others recognize them for their success, they don’t bring this up, and if asked about it, will give credit to others.  Others will know them for their unselfishness and desire to give back.


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.