We hear a lot of talk about mentors in business today. What exactly is a mentor? Do you need one, and if so, how do you find the right one?
Mentors have been around for a long time. The term comes from the original Mentor, a character in Homer’s Odyssey. When the King of Ithaca went to fight the Trojan War, he left Mentor in charge of his kingdom. Obviously, Mentor had his trust, which is why Webster defines the term as “a trusted counselor or guide.” But enough about ancient history.
Just about everyone needs a mentor at some point in their career. No matter where you are today, there’s probably someone ahead of you on the path, someone who has accomplished something you haven’t, someone whose business savvy you admire. Let’s see how you can create and benefit from the mentor relationship.
- The search
- The approach
- The coach
- The results
The search. So how do you find a mentor? If you’re new on the job, that’s easy—probably everyone around you knows a little something you don’t know. But even people with years of experience can still benefit from the mentor relationship.
The absolute best place to look for a mentor is right in front of you, in your own office. Is there an individual you admire and respect? Someone who has always impressed you with their creativity, client relationships, or deal-making ability?
Maybe it’s your boss or even your boss’s boss. It could be the older individual who isn’t currently a top producer, but who you know has lots of experience in a variety of market conditions. If there’s no one in your immediate vicinity, look in professional organizations or even competing firms.
The approach. Coffee is a great catalyst. Approach the individual you’d like to have as a mentor and ask if he or she would meet you for a cup of coffee, preferably away from the office in a casual setting. Depending on the individual, and your current relationship, your conversation will vary in the amount of detail and in what specifics you discuss. At a minimum, you should let them know why you’d like to have them as a mentor and what you hope to learn from your association. You can also discuss a time commitment and what you’ll bring to the table.
The coach. A good mentor is like a coach. In order to be successful, you need to have an agenda, a list of things you want to accomplish within the relationship, and a timeline for making things happen. You need to be willing to try new ideas. A pet peeve of many mentors is when they offer guidance or suggestions and there is no follow-through. If you have fears or breakdowns, don’t be afraid to talk about them. Why do you have a mentor if you aren’t willing to share issues openly and take action on suggestions? This doesn’t mean that you are obligated to implement all your mentor’s ideas. Just look at new ideas as possibilities and see where you might want to go with them.
The results. Track your progress. Start with an agenda and timeline, and as you work with your mentor, keep a journal or notebook where you can jot down ideas and note your accomplishments. If you asked your mentor to help you grow your business, what were your goals and what progress have you made? It is easy to forget.
For example, let’s say your goal was to use social media to obtain new clients. If you started with zero online presence and six months later you have a blog, a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account, then you have made huge leaps forward. But if you honestly see that you are not moving ahead, talk to your mentor. See what’s getting in the way and brainstorm some new ideas or directions.
The success of your relationship with a mentor is largely up to you. The mentor can provide ideas, guidance, and suggestions. You provide the action.
And what does the mentor get out of this process? Often people act as mentors because they enjoy sharing their success and seeing others benefit from what they have learned. Unless you have officially hired someone as a coach and agreed to pay them a fee, most mentors are unpaid. Their compensation comes from knowing they have contributed to someone else’s success. And somewhere down the line, you may have an opportunity to pay it forward yourself.
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