Why You Need a Yoda and Where to Find One

Posted By: Katrina Ruffner Governance + Leadership, Staff + Volunteer Teams,

Yoda StatueAs the air turns crisp and you get stuck behind school buses again on your way to work, pause and consider: as a nonprofit professional, who are the teachers in your life now? Do you have a Yoda?

A Yoda (or a Yaddle), more commonly known as a mentor, is a trusted advisor who openly shares his or her knowledge and expertise and supports the learning and growth of another.

Why Seek a Yoda?

There are many approaches to mentoring with different definitions and catchy buzzwords to describe them.

The bottom line is that high-quality relationships that result in learning and personal growth are helpful to our personal success, and the success of our work.

Everyone needs a Yoda, or better yet, an entire council of Yodas. We all need a Yoda to say, “Happens to everyone sometimes this does.” and “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Yodas are especially important in the nonprofit sector, where structured career development opportunities are not always readily available.

Having a Yoda provides:

  • Access to new contacts
  • Guidance on relationship development
  • Opportunity for mutual learning
  • Help assessing your strengths + challenges
  • A sounding board for new ideas + problem-solving
  • Support, encouragement + motivation
  • A model for how to be one to others!

What to Look for in a Yoda

The good news is that it’s not difficult to create these relationships. Start by asking, “What do I need?”

THE Yoda may have lived to be 900 years old, but your Yoda could be any age or level of experience. MAYBE your Yoda is older, wiser, more experienced, knowledgeable, and skilled, but they don’t need to be. They could be your peer, someone you meet through networking or someone you seek out.

Look for someone who:

  • Does similar work
  • Is a good listener
  • Shares your values + sense of humor
  • Is candid with kindness – constructive feedback without spirit-crushing
  • Is willing to share stories of their own successes + failures
  • Drives you to keep learning
  • Facilitates your decision-making process rather than telling you what to do

How to Find a Yoda

There is a lot of advice out there about networking and its benefits. Successful networking helps us build social capital, provides useful information, fresh ideas and new opportunities. While we may connect with Yodas through networking, most of the relationships we gain there are casual; helpful, but not life-changing.

You can also:

  • Let them find you! You’ll know they’re a Yoda when they share their knowledge with you. Don’t get stressed out constantly searching for Yodas. Quite often they just step into your life, and your job is just to recognize them for who they are.
  • Find organizations doing similar work and look to their leaders. A lot can come out of grabbing a cup of coffee with someone.
  • Collaborate on a project that is of interest to you and another person.  Choosing something that supports both of your work and asking for help putting it together can lead to a deeper relationship during the process.
  • Look to your peers.

How to Keep a Yoda

All relationships require nurturing, and one with a mentor is no different.

  • Approach the relationship with authenticity – a willingness to be open, honest, and introspective, to admit mistakes and share both failures and successes.
  • Don’t be a burden by demanding too much time or being overly dependent.
  • Recognize the value of what they share and show your appreciation.

“Always pass on what you have learned.” ~Yoda

Can you imagine if every person in Maine’s nonprofit sector committed to sharing their knowledge and expertise with just one other person regularly? It is an important responsibility for each of us because sharing our knowledge and expertise helps to build and strengthen the nonprofit sector, and in turn, the galaxy.