5 Lessons Olympic Athletes Can Teach us About Mentoring

I love watching the Olympics- so many amazing stories and so inspiring. I read a great article the other day in the Wall Street Journal by Jason Gay, entitled Cycling’s Luke Finds  Her Obi-Wan. It was about U.S. Olympic cyclist, Evelyn Stevens, and her mentor, Connie Carpenter (1984 gold medalist in cycling).

There were a lot of great lessons to be learned about mentoring from Stevens and Carpenter.

  • Figure out who inspires you in your professional world.  Learn everything you can about them. These folks can become your inspirational mentors and role models through their example.
  • Be bold like Evelyn Stevens and reach out to would-be mentors and ask for their advice. Evelyn was an associate at a Wall Street investment firm and not finding the passion she craved on the job, but was finding it on her bike. It seemed crazy to leave a well-paying job to enter a competitive sport like cycling, particularly one that doesn’t have a high profile for female athletes.  Stevens knew she was talented but knew she needed help to develop her potential.
  • Take your mentor’s advice and implement their suggestions. Carpenter asked Stevens a lot of tough questions to consider such as: Have you saved some money? Is this a job you can come back to?  These types of questions can be a form of initial relationship challenges. If Stevens got discouraged at this point, it is unlikely the relationship would have flourished. Stevens met the questions challenges and convinced Carpenter that her passion would see her through the inevitable cycling challenges.
  • The best mentoring relationships are personal.  As Gay reports in his article, Stevens said about Carpenter, “She’s kind of a sister, mom and friend all at once.” As they got to know each other they became enmeshed personally and their mentoring relationship turned into a family friendship on both sides.
  • Mentors can introduce you to their network and take you to the next level in your performance. Carpenter introduced Stevens to her coach and worked with her on her mental imagery and visualization.

Questions to consider:

-Who are the gold medal athletes in your professional world?

-What challenges have been posed to you by mentors in your past?

-How can you turn existing supportive relationships into world class mentors?

P.S. Evelyn Stevens finished 24th in the Olympic cycling road race but both she and mentor agree that this was her starter Olympics.

 

Ellen A. Ensher, Ph.D. is a Professor of Management at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.  Dr. Ensher has an established expertise in mentoring and organizational behavior, and is a frequent key note speaker and workshop leader for conferences and public and private organizations around the world. For more information on mentoring, media or management, visitwww.ellenensher.com and subscribe to her blog at www.ellenensher.com/blog