This week’s Wednesday Wisdom is from the Breakfast with Fred email Blog and reviews the “The Art of Being Mentored”

Great teachers want to find great students. With my mentors, I tried to be a good student. As I studied the process I recognized four key elements in being successfully mentored.

  1. Admit your ignorance. I never tried to impress my mentor with my knowledge. I always exposed my ignorance. To hide ignorance is as foolish as hiding symptoms from a doctor. Dr. Walter Hearn, a biochemist at Yale University surprised me once by saying, “Fred, every night when you go to bed you ought to be more ignorance than you were when you woke up.” He explained that if I considered my knowledge as a balloon that increased in size daily, it touched more and more ignorance on the periphery of its environment. The more I knew the more I knew I didn’t know. Arrogant people are proud of their knowledge; the humble are familiar with their ignorance.
  2. Work to ask the right questions. Right questions come from thought, analysis, and discernment. Idle or careless questions are demeaning to the mentor. There’s power in a good question. Years of experience have taught me that one of keys is asking a question the person wants to answer. A young professor recently told me about asking a prominent speaker two questions following an award ceremony. The man disregarded all those trying to shake his hand and concentrated on answering only those two questions. The professor asked questions the man wanted to answer.
  3. Do your homework. With my two mentors I never called them unless I had written down what I wanted to talk about. Writing out your questions beforehand is helpful in minimizing verbiage. When we met in person I had already organized my questions; I knew it was not a social situation. If we later spent time together that was up to them, not me. My mentors knew I would not waste their time. In fact, I never walked in their offices and sat down until invited. Preparation shows respect and a readiness to make progress.
  4. Never try to “use” your mentor. A person with a high-profile, well-known mentor can be tempted to reference him/her in ways that really are manipulative. Quoting the mentor out of context, attempting to build a relationship for personal gain, or name dropping inappropriately are examples. A mentor is for progress, not ego satisfaction.

A good student grows. Progress is the pay the student gives the teacher. The mentor likes being there when achievement occurs. I now at this age spend most of my time mentoring high achievers. I make no charge. But I get amply paid by the accomplishments I see in them.