A mentor is someone who has more experience than you in business or life and has usually travelled the same journey that you are looking to take. A mentor can give you career guidance, business advice and improve your networking ability. The important thing is that they are there to support and guide you, not to fix your problems.
The first thing you need to do when seeking out a mentor is to have an end goal, i.e. a SMART objective of what you are looking to achieve. Do some research on your mentor. Understand if they have achieved similar objectives in their career and if they can add the value you are looking for. When a mentor is assessing a mentee, they will want to assess what they can bring to the table in the relationship and how they can best advise their mentee. If you have done your research this will let the mentor know that you’re serious about your goals.
Determining what qualities you are looking for in your mentor is the next critical step. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Are you looking to improve your networking? Do you need someone with good networking skills? Whatever your areas for development are, you should be looking for a mentor with these five qualities:
- Good listening skills
- Honesty and not afraid to tell you truth
- Demonstrates a positive attitude and leads by example
- Takes a personal interest in mentoring
- Values ongoing learning
Ideally, you will find a mentor who possesses all the qualities and business skills you are looking for, but it’s more than likely you will need to compromise. Mentors should not be a direct report and should be about two to three levels above where you are now. Draw a list of must haves and what you are willing to compromise on, but make sure you have aligned values and vision. Once you have done this, you can start to approach potential mentors.
Where to find a mentor
Current organisation – Have you worked on a project involving different countries or departments? Did you work well with some senior stakeholders whom you could approach? Is there a formal mentoring scheme at your organisation?
Friends and Family will have a vested interest in your success. Speak to family members and their friends. Ask for introductions, but remember what your original goal was.
People in your extended network – Your extended network is the next step. This could be a LinkedIn connection from a mutual friend who you could ask for a referral, or someone you met at a conference that you built some rapport with.
Respected people in your industry – Is there a thought leader in your industry whose articles and publications you follow? You could ask their advice on a recent publication. Are you a member of a chamber of commerce with a committee for your area of focus, or are there speakers or industry experts who you could approach?
Competition – You could look to your competition. Do you partner with other organisations? Do you compete but in different verticals of the same industry? Or would a potential mentor for a large organistion not look at a small business as competition?
Paid for mentorships – This might not be the first port of call, but if you need sound advice quickly there are a lot of organisations that offer coaching and business advice. Look for recommendations.
Approaching a mentor
Now that you have drawn your list of potential mentors, you need to start approaching them. As always, a face to face conversation would be best, but, if not, a telephone call or email will do fine. Ask for a brief informal meeting; brief will show that you respect their busy schedule. Mentoring can be a significant time commitment for both parties, so if you are struggling to get time in their diary this could be an indication that the relationship might not be quite right. Always work around their schedule and travel to meet with them.
Once you have secured the meeting, now it’s time to see if you can develop a relationship with them. Go with SMART questions and a clear plan of your SMART goals. Remember that you need to give back what your mentor puts in and that it’s a chance for you to assess each other’s strengths and weaknesses and see if there is a fit.
Once you have found one or more mentors and it’s a fit for both parties, it’s a chance to set objectives. What would success look like? Set long-term and short-term goals. What is confidential? How often should you meet? I would suggest at least once a quarter but you will meet more or less as your relationship develops.
The key thing with a mentor-mentee relationship is that they should always be honest with you, even if it’s not something you want to hear. You should be mature enough to take the feedback onboard, to ask intelligent questions and to use this to help you meet your goals.
Hopefully at the end of the relationship you will have met all your goals and developed a friendship. Remember throughout the mentoring to keep committed to your mentor, extend your network to your mentor and give something back. A lot of mentors are surprised at how much they can learn from the process, which makes it interesting and rewarding for both parties.
If you’d like to speak to our team for advice on how to take your career in the right direction, please do not hesitate to contact us.