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Why You Need a Mentor and How to Find the Right One for You


August 18, 2016

By: Jeff Campbell

Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs. Bill Gates had Warren Buffett. Michael Jordan had Dean Smith. Guidance is a cornerstone of greatness in any arena. Even for those who are already good at what they do, mentorship provides the insight to reach “the next level”—whether it’s the astronomical success of those named above, or an incremental accomplishment such as a job promotion.

Here at the SDSU Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) Master’s Program, we are not only adamant proponents, but also matchmakers for mentorship. Let’s take a brief look at why having a mentor is so critical in today’s competitive workforce and how to go about finding one.

Two-Way Wisdom

A mentor is not just a provider of advice. In fact, that’s often the smaller portion of their role. More importantly, they are a sounding board to share ideas with.

Most of us don’t know what we think until we hear what we say. The best counseling a mentor can give is to sit, listen, and ask thought-provoking questions while you talk yourself through a challenge. They will, of course, offer experiential context for you to make informed decisions, but the majority of your instruction with a mentor is self-guided. 

Lifelong Lessons

When I was first hired as the new president of Burger King USA, I worked for the late legendary restaurateur, Norman Brinker.

I was in Norman’s office one afternoon after he had seen a memo I had written to one of our senior leaders. I was noticeably prescriptive in terms of laying out the course of action, and Norman said, “I saw your note and wonder if next time you should just tell him what the objective is and let him figure out how to get there.”

He added, “Two things will happen: one, you’ll find out how smart he is or isn’t, and two, you might just come up with some new ideas yourself.”

That was 35 years ago, and I still carry that lesson with me today. In 2003, at a dinner for the Brinker Executive Residence Program, I had the opportunity to remind Norman of that moment. It was pure delight and nostalgia for both of us.

My point in sharing this story is to illustrate the longevity of mentorship. Oftentimes, we are so caught up in our current work that we don’t realize how truly impactful—and even generational—a mentor’s lessons can be.

Active Thinking

For those who strive to grow, having a mentor doesn’t mean you stop thinking for yourself. Your mentor thinks with you, not for you. This ties back to the sounding board value of a mentor as opposed to the common misconception that a mentor tells you what to do.

Successful people are always playing out current and future situations in their minds—a mentor helps to extract, identify, and build upon the many thoughts that swirl in the mind of a leader. Without a mentor, it’s all too easy to become consumed and content with the status quo.

Finding a Compatible Mentor

Compatibility is key when it comes to choosing a mentor. You want someone who:

  • Has life experience relevant to your career path and aspirations
  • Is comfortable mentoring you
  • Makes you feel comfortable speaking openly with them
  • Has either a similar or complementary personality to you

So, how do you find this person?

Forge a Relationship

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking someone whom you respect and admire to be your mentor.

Feel awkward asking them, “Will you be my mentor?” Pretty much anyone would be somewhat uncomfortable on either side of that question, which is why mentorships usually happen organically and gradually over lunch, drinks, or in some other casual setting. But, understand that it’s up to the mentee to take the initiative and seek out that ongoing interaction.

Be Matched with a Compatible Mentor

Part of our commitment to providing a truly valuable leadership program is facilitating mentorships. In the HTM Master’s Program, every student is matched with their own personal mentor within their industry. In many cases, mentors are HTM Master’s alumni, providing the double benefit of program and workspace insight.

With a small class setting led by myself and others who possess a passion for developing the next generation of leaders, mentorship is also ingrained in virtually every part of our curriculum. Learn more about SDSU HTM Master’s mentorship here.

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