Of the many candidates I meet each week, one of the questions I frequently ask is whether they have a mentor. This often leads to a conversation around the benefits of such given the answer is rarely yes. Most great business leaders from Sir Richard Branson to Steve Jobs have enjoyed the benefits of a great mentor; here are a few reasons why.
To make you accountable. Whilst you may already be mindful of the advice they are giving you, it is easy to procrastinate until you have shared your goals with them, making it more likely that you will actually stick to your decisions.
They keep you on track. A well defined business plan is not uncommon; but is it also likely for these plans to remain in a drawer until the following year when you’ll need to blow the dust off and start the process all over again. A mentor will take a holistic approach to your goals and ensure your daily and weekly decisions are always in line with your long term objectives.
Build your confidence. A good mentor has been in your shoes before and will almost certainly appreciate all of your frustrations and any stumbling blocks you face. They would have undoubtedly had the same experiences and will be able to provide you with the advice and reassurance you need to feel at ease with any challenges you may be facing, and understand that these are to be expected, not feared.
They will tell you the truth. Advice comes from all angles – usually those close to you which can often mean they will hold back from direct feedback or be biased in your favour. A mentor will give it to you straight without sugar coating – essential in ensuring you remain fully aware of your situation, choices and the better options.
How to find a mentor
Ok so we may not all be fortunate enough to have Yoda at our disposal, but there are several ways to find a good mentor. Remember, it is important to ensure they are someone you look up to and can envisage catching up with regularly for the foreseeable future.
Who do you already know? The first, most logical place to find a mentor is by thinking of those you have worked with and respect. Reconnect with them and ask them for a coffee catch up, take it slow and make it a casual informal catch up. Ask a lot of questions about what they have been doing and in turn tell them what your current situation is and remember to go prepared to ask their advice on matters you are currently experiencing. This will give you a sense of whether there is a connection between you and if, in fact, you feel their advice is valuable to you.
Ask your colleagues, friends and family. Whilst it may seem like a strange request, you will be surprised by the amount of recommendations you will receive from the networks you already have. Start by asking your close friends and family if there is someone they recommend then see if you can arrange an informal coffee catch up to see if there is a potential match; the worst thing that can happen is that you have gained another contact in your network.
Proactively find someone. It is important not to ask complete strangers to be your mentor. Someone you do not know will rarely be prepared to invest their valuable time and energy in a person they have never heard of.
For those you haven’t met, make yourself noticed. If they are active on twitter or LinkedIn, share their posts, make comments, positively contribute to their blogs and take an active interest in what they are saying. Become someone they notice and show them you can be of value to them and are genuinely interested in what they have to say. When you feel it is time to drop them a direct line to ask their advice or opinion on something, do so directly and gauge their level of interest; you’ll be surprised by how many are open to hearing from you.
And finally… Make sure you are someone they want to mentor!
Be enthusiastic. Make sure you are focused, driven and want to succeed. A good mentor will want to help someone who they genuinely believe wants their help. If you are not serious about listening and taking their advice, don’t expect them to waste their valuable time with you.
Go prepared. Make the most of the time you spend with your mentor. You don’t want this to feel like an interview for them so keep it informal, but at the same time ensure you have areas that you would like to discuss prepared beforehand; as I keep saying, their time is valuable – treat it as such.
Put yourself in their shoes. If you were a mentor think of the type of person you would want to help. How would you decide which person you would mentor if asked? The answer will undoubtedly be the same for everybody; those that are driven, enthusiastic, appreciative and enjoyable to spend time with.