Do you want a Level III pin like the instructor two lockers
down in the changing room? Do you wish you could ski powder
like one of your colleagues does? Do you need ideas for how to
manage students with behavioral issues? Whatever skill you want
to acquire, there is probably someone in your ski and ride school
who would be happy to help. But you won’t find a mentor unless
you know what you want to improve.
APPROACHING A MENTOR – AND ESTABLISHING A RELATIONSHIP
In addition to serving two terms on the PSIA-AASI Alpine
Team, Eric Lipton also helps run his family’s furniture business
in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He has had a worthy mentor in both
careers. “My dad, Ian Lipton, is a 45-year member of PSIA,” says
the younger Lipton. From his dad, he learned more by osmosis
than through structured lessons, and more through observation
than explanation. Lipton considers his dad – and other mentors he
has had throughout his life – to be critical cogs in his development.
“To really excel and achieve, you need a sounding board to help
clarify your thoughts and message,” he says.
If your dad doesn’t happen to be a Level III instructor, how
do you develop a valuable relationship with a mentor? Byers and
Lipton have several suggestions.
● Formalize it. People like to help others, so it’s likely that when
you approach that veteran instructor you admire so much, he or
she will say, “Sure, I have time right now. What do you need to
know?” Stop, says Byers. “Thank them but tell them that now’s not
great, and then set up another time to meet,” she says. The idea is
that right there and then too often doesn’t turn out to be enough
time to really give your questions the time they need. A formal
meeting – even if over coffee or for a run on the hill – establishes
that your questions are important and really require attention.
● Be sensitive of their time. When you have known your mentor
for a while, you don’t need to be so formal; probably suggestions
over the water cooler or on the chairlift are okay. But at least in
the early going, as you develop a relationship, make sure you
don’t waste your mentor’s time. “Whatever you can do to get
what you need from the person without causing more work for
them helps,” says Byers.
● Bring suggestions. Your mentor has already made time for you.
Don’t leave your learning up to them too. “The onus is on you
to have a plan for how you’re going to get to where you want to
go,” says Byers. Before meeting with a mentor (particularly for
the first time), give thought to the form you think would make
the partnership successful. For example, one approach would
be to use the first meeting to gather information. Then ask the
mentor if you could observe him or her in a lesson. Finally,
maybe he or she would be available to help you practice what it
is you hope to learn after your observation session.
● Be committed. A mentor might bring knowledge and experience, but the mentee brings dedication. “The mentee needs
to demonstrate commitment – to the sport, to the job, to the
issue, to the question. That’s when the mentor’s best stuff comes
out; when the mentee has demonstrated commitment,” says
Lipton. “Going through the motions only gets you so far.” But
being all in and showing it – that’s when you get the most from
● Be open to criticism. “Be willing to share, and be willing to
listen,” says Lipton. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Adds
Byers, “It’s important not just to hear what you’re doing
well. Respond to constructive feedback without argument,
without emotion.” In order for your mentor to truly help
you, he or she needs to give feedback on your weak areas;
that’s why you are there. Listen. Be open.
The relationship between mentor and mentee is based on give-and-take, say Lipton and Byers. “It’s not the bucket analogy,
where one bucket is full and the other is empty, and the
mentor dumps what he knows into your bucket,” says Lipton.
Relationships are built on trust. For your mentor to trust you,
you need to do your part. What’s your part? Taking steps to
BEING A GOOD MENTOR
“Not only do I hear people say they want a mentor, the same
people want to be mentors,” says Byers. “And I think it’s
TO REALLY EXCEL AND ACHIEVE, YOU NEED
A SOUNDING BOARD TO HELP CLARIFY YOUR
THOUGHTS AND MESSAGE. – ERIC LIPTON