The Mentor's Mind: How to Find a Mentor

June 21, 2007
Dr. Stephanie Houseman advises what to look for in a mentor, how to narrow your choices, and what to say to a prospective mentor.

By Stephanie Houseman, DMD

Question: There are times when I feel like I'm going it alone in my dental practice. I believe it would be beneficial if I had a big sister or brother who would be my mentor, but I don't know how to make that happen. Can you help me?

Answer: "Study anyone who's great and you'll find that they apprenticed to a master, or several masters. Therefore, if you want to achieve greatness, renown, and superlative success, you must apprentice to a master," said Robert Allen, the co-author of "The One Minute Millionaire."

This master is a mentor. The word mentor derives from Greek mythology. In Homer's "The Odyssey," Mentor was Odysseus's trusted elderly counselor who was the teacher and protector of Odysseus's son while his father was away in Troy. You, too, can have an experienced supporter and advisor, someone who has already done what you want to do. You, too, can have a mentor.

How do you find a mentor?

First, you must remove any blocks you might have to asking for help. These can be defeating thoughts such as:
It takes too much time to work with a mentor.
I fear rejection. Who would want to help me?
I will be put to the task and will actually have to work for what I want. It's one thing to dream about it; it's another thing to do it.
I will be uncomfortable at times, and that's risky. Change takes me out of my comfort zone.

Second, now that you're ready for a mentor, look around you. Granted, there are books, tapes, CDs, online education, and hands-on CE to teach you, but working with a personal mentor is the best way to propel yourself. Priceless is the individual attention you will receive. Look for someone you admire and respect and who has achieved success doing what you want to do.

A good mentor is:
patient and understanding (because you will misstep as you learn).
a good teacher.
available (because mentoring takes time and commitment).
a motivator who will challenge you.

Make a list of possible mentors. Then pick up the phone and call them. Not everyone will say yes, but for those who do, schedule some time to get to know one another. Then choose the person who you think is the best fit for you.

A sample phone script follows. Suppose you want to build your own dental office building:

"Hello, Dr. Smith. My name is _____. We've never met, but I am impressed with the dental building you built a few years ago. I watched the progress on one of the dental message boards. My practice has outgrown my current space and I have bought a piece of land to build a new office. I'm in the early stages, trying to figure it all out. There are so many decisions to make. I was wondering if you would consider being my mentor and sharing what you learned during the building process. I would appreciate it. If you're open to the idea, then we can schedule a time to discuss the relationship further."

Third, after you have identified your mentor, clearly define the mentor-mentee relationship and your goals.
How much time is involved? How often will you meet?
How will you meet? Face to face, on the phone, by e-mail, or a combination?
What is expected of you as the mentee?
What do you need from your mentor?
Set specific goals so that your mentor can hold you accountable.

Many successful people are willing to share their knowledge. They might have had a mentor themselves and are now paying it forward, just as you will some day. A path has been left by those who have been there and done that. Capitalize on that path, and success will also be yours.

© 2007 Stephanie Houseman, DMD

Stephanie Houseman, DMD, practiced dentistry in St. Louis for 25 years. She is married to a dentist, has two grown children, and understands all too well the demands we place on ourselves. She now works with dentists who want to simplify their lives so that they can enjoy themselves again. She is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute, creator of the 7 Steps 2 a Balanced Life Program™, and author of "The Balance Beam," a weekly e-newsletter about balance and life. Reach Dr. Houseman at or (618) 639-5433.