UCLA Gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field shares the strategies she used to ask the legendary Coach John Wooden to become her mentor.
We ALL need people in our life who we trust will listen to us; churn and evaluate the information we share without judgment; and care and love us so much that they risk being “brutally honest” in order to help us become the best versions of ourselves. These people are mirrors. These people are sounding boards. These people are our Mentors.
“In a world where seemingly every piece of information can be Googled, there’s still some knowledge that can only be gained through experience. In ancient Greece, philosopher Socrates helped guide Plato; in Post-Renaissance Europe, composer Joseph Haydn counseled Ludwig van Beethoven; and on America’s NFL gridiron, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith has been offering LaDainian Tomlinson football tips since he was a kid in Texas… It’s no coincidence that behind every great success you’ll find a teacher whose knowledge, experience and wisdom has been passed on with positive impact.”
How to Acquire a Mentor?
Quite simply, be inquisitive to everyone you meet. You never know who you’ll click and want to forge a deeper relationship.
Don’t be afraid to ask. If you do feel there is something special to be gleaned from the relationship, ask to meet again. Offer to take them for coffee or lunch. Something easy, but also suggests a definite time limit so they don’t think you’re asking for too much of their time.
If there is a mutual interest in further discussions, the potential mentor will say, “yes.” For your meeting, gather as much information about the person as you can to have a better understanding of how they acquired their wisdom.
In my early relationship with Coach Wooden I noticed he spoke of his father often, so I peppered him with questions about his early childhood. I made sure to do my homework and not reiterate the questions I could easily get from a book, but instead asked questions that brought a smile and glimmer to his eyes when he answered. One of my favorites was when I asked him how he first met his future wife, Nellie. His eyes lit up recounting the story of meeting her when he was 16.
To keep the relationship vibrant, check in with the person a few times a month but not too often (you don’t want them thinking you are going to monopolize all of their time). I love receiving random texts from people with short messages of appreciation for something I helped them with. I love even more receiving a written note.
Remember: when seeking mentorship, be sure not to muddle the attributes of a friend with that of a mentor. While they should have all of the same personal traits that you admire, such as kindness, consideration, discretion, etc., a friend is someone who is your buddy, someone who goes through the good, bad and ugly with you. A mentor is one that helps you decipher the good, bad and ugly and offers options for clear paths for how to proceed.
Qualities of a Mentor (important to me)
1. Someone who listens to me from my perspective, not theirs. Someone who asks questions pertinent to my circumstances. Someone who will offer suggestions based on my life, not theirs.
2. Someone who can respectfully and honestly tell me how I am perceived while understanding it may not be my intent.
3. Someone who I will be 100% honest with and with whom I trust to keep my discussions confidential.
4. Someone who I trust will not judge me or my actions.
5. Someone who sincerely wants me to succeed.
6. Someone who enthusiastically supports me to become the person I want to become.
Having a mentor who is unselfish, discreet, honest, trustworthy and wise can be life-changing. Coach Wooden was one of my greatest mentors. He never judged me, but had an uncanny way of offering other possibilities besides the one I was choosing.
Another strong mentor of mine is my husband, Bobby Field. Like Coach, he has never advised me of what I “should” do, but instead always gives me the gift of really listening to my issue; takes a substantial amount of time to marinate on the situation; and always comes back to me with an angle or shade of the situation I hadn’t seen before. The gift of being able to see the same situation from a different angle always provides new alternatives for how I proceed.
My third mentor is Foster Mobley, who is a professional leadership coach. I intentionally sought him out. I had heard of him from the UCLA softball coach so I called him up, introduced myself and asked to hire him to help me revitalize my coaching style and philosophies. That phone call has lead to an extremely close professional relationship. For the past seven years Foster has worked with me, our coaching staff and our squad in team and leadership building skills, and is now working with our entire athletic department… all because I made the ask.
I’d love to hear of a mentor who has had a substantial positive effect on your life–and, I’d love to hear of any other qualities that are important to you in a Mentor.