Even President Obama had Great Mentors

President Obama was inaugurated today for his second term. In his autobiography “Dreams of my Father” he discusses some of the great mentors he had in his life. A mentor is an individual, usually older, always more experienced, who helps and guides another individual’s development. This guidance is not done for personal gain.

Mentoring is used in many settings. It is common in business, and it is used in educational settings, especially with “at risk” students. It is also the basic principle behind the Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs.

One of the most valuable assets your career can have is a good mentor.

Tips for Individuals being Mentored

  • At the core of virtually all-successful and personally satisfying mentoring is a meaningful relationship with another person. Prior to your first meeting with your mentor, write down at least three things you would like to achieve through mentoring. If not included in your lists, write down at least three things you would like your mentor to provide.
  • Prepare a brief autobiography that you can share with your mentor when you first meet. Be sure to also include your own vision, mission or life goals.
  • It is likely that you selected your mentor or were matched with your mentor because of the mentor’s resources. This typically means that your mentor has both considerable gifts and a tight time schedule. Dealing with time is a key aspect of the success of mentoring. Make sure you are clear about your needs.

Tips for person doing the Mentoring

With President Obama

Charles Garcia with President Obama in Oct. 2012

  • Listen deeply and ask powerful questions.
    The two skills that I think are essential for successful mentoring are (1) in-depth listening, that is, suspending judgment, listening for understanding and providing an accepting and supportive atmosphere; and (2) asking powerful questions, that is, questions that are challenging in a friendly way and questions that help the other person talk about what is important to that person.
  • Focus on wisdom.
    I see myself as a resource, catalyst, facilitator, idea generator, net worker, and problem-solver, but I do not see myself as a person with answers. I do have experience and I think I have learned from those experiences, but I do not see my mentor role as one in which I “tell” another person what to do or how to do it. I freely share what I have done (or have learned), not as a prescription, but more as an example of something from which I gained some wisdom. I also feel comfortable contributing ideas or suggestions, not as a sage, but as a collaborator.
  • Maintain and respect privacy, honesty, and integrity. I have had experience participating in events where these key values have been jeopardized. I know first-hand the disastrous consequences that can accompany violating these values. I can’t offer confidentiality in the legal sense, but I can do the best I can to ensure that “what is said in this room stays in this room.”


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