Mentors can be the key to unlocking a network of business contacts and to spread word of mouth that your business is up and running and ready to perform for customers. Mentors can also provide knowledge, expertise, and support for your business. A mentor is more than just a contact in your network – a mentor is a coach making a long term commitment to you.
Why Do I Need a Mentor?
A mentor is part coach, part cheerleader, part protagonist, part antagonist, and mostly a realist. As one mentee once said about his mentor, “don’t tell me how great I am, I can call my mom if I want to hear that.” A mentor provides a dose of reality mixed with advice on how to improve.
One of the first things you need to do when seeking out a mentor is to identify your weak spots. What things do you need to improve? Where are the blind spots in your life that you know can be changed? Where do you often fail? Think about the things you need – do you often fail in your finances? Find a numbers expert. Do you lack international experience? Seek out a global thinker. Do you need to grow a small business? Find a successful CEO of a medium size business. Matching the right mentor to your needs is the first step to finding the right mentor.
Whether you are starting a small business or working your way up the corporate ladder, finding a mentor can open doors for you and ease your way to customers and career success. In many ways, a mentor can be just what you need to break into a career. But how to find a mentor?
How to Find a Mentor
First, check with your company, school alumni association, or local group you are associated with (e.g. Rotary Club, Kiwanis) to see if they have a structured mentoring program in place. These structured mentoring programs often have years of trial and error – presenting an opportunity for you to enter into a smooth running program. These types of coaching programs often perform personality and goal assessments to match you with a compatible mentor. Compatible could be someone with similar personalities – or could be someone who is very different. Some mentoring programs find that dissimilar mentor/mentee relationships are best for success.
Find someone you trust. One of the other popular methods to finding a mentor is to seek one out on your own. Find someone you trust who is successful in the area you desire mentorship. I have a mentor, Greg, who is a very successful businessman having launched his own company and who is now a business consultant. We meet on a regular basis for lunch to discuss my business and he provides feedback and advice on how to grow my business.
Search your network of contacts to find a mentor. Often times, people you know may not be the right mentor, but they may know someone who will be the right fit for you. Susan James was seeking a mentor to help her through a difficult time at her company. Susan, the vice-president of marketing at a medium-sized apparel company in Atlanta, needed to create a campaign for the launch of a new clothing line at the company and struggled with the long hours and consuming work. Susan was seeking someone who had been through this before and ran into a former classmate at a football party. Her classmate was still in contact with Ann Jacobs, a professor at her alma mater and suggested she give Ann a call. Ann was at one time the CMO at a consumer goods product company and work with Susan through this time.
Ann and Susan started a great mentor-mentee relationship which has lasted for six years and a job change for Susan. “Connecting with Ann was one of the best things that’s happened to my career. Ann has been great to bounce ideas off of and provide some realistic feedback on my personal decisions.”
Finding a mentor is often about taking opportunities as they present themselves. Doug Gerber, Infrastructure Manager at a large IT consulting firm explains, “keep your ears to the ground at all times listening for opportunities. Offer to help when an opportunity pops up – if you help enough senior people, one of them might turn out to be a great resource as a mentor.”
Mentoring is not just a one-way relationship. Doug Gerber explains, “as a mentor, I gain a lot of recognition and respect from my peers. I take my time mentoring people until they are ready to move on to a different mentor with different skills.” Mentoring can sometimes be a lifetime relationship, other times it is for a period of time until the mentor or mentee is ready to move on.