What to look for in a mentor
When I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, one of the things that most stuck out for me was her discussion around mentoring.
She talks in detail how important mentoring is and how challenging it is for many women to find mentors.
Interestingly, one of the things that she is most criticised for in her book is how elitist she is because she had a mentor who was also the head of one of the colleges at Harvard when she attended, but clearly she has mastered the art of finding great mentors (yet another reason to read this book!).
So here’s the bad news… true (and free) mentorship usually comes out of an existing relationship. It’s very difficult for someone to decide to mentor you if they don’t know you or see potential in you.
After I started out on my journey as an entrepreneur, I was very lucky to have the support of my old MD. He became a mentor, sponsor, advocate and supporter and I will always be grateful for his advice and help during what was a challenging time.
Today I get mentoring and advice from lots of people around me, some of it is paid for and some of it is free. But regardless of whether I have paid for it not, I really value all of it.
I think finding decent mentors is incredibly important when you are running a business because they give you fresh insight and ideas, support during challenging times and ideally, an impartial view of your business and how you might resolve your issues.
What is a mentor?
Firstly let’s look at what mentoring is. In simple terms, a mentor is an advisor. A mentor is not a coach, though inevitably a mentor will coach you as well as mentor you.
They will be someone who can discuss your business with you and who will use their resources, contacts, and ideas to help you grow.
However, a mentor should also be impartial. They are not there to make you feel better about yourself or take you through a process where you become enlightened about an internal problem. They tend to be more strategic, bringing their experience to bear and giving advice and support to help you move forward in your business
Different types of mentoring
There are a few different ways that you can get support and mentoring for your business.
Peer group mentoring. I’m a big fan of peer group mentoring, as this can often give you what you are looking for quickly and easily. Peer group mentoring is where you connect with other people who are in a similar place to you, support you and your business and are willing to listen and offer advice and help where they can. It is usually free and can give you some much needed camaraderie in your business as well. I like to build peer group mentoring into our marketing meetups each month.
Finding and paying for a mentor. This is a more formal relationship where you arrange a regular time to meet and discuss your business challenges with someone you respect and whose advice can help move you forward. It doesn’t have to be face to face, in fact, I usually mentor people via Skype. This type of mentoring is an ongoing relationship, and it is worth thinking about formal goals and outcomes so that you can get the most out of it.
Informal mentoring. This is where you speak with an old boss, friend or industry expert and ask for their help. It is surprising how often people will say yes if you ask. However, it does also mean that you don’t always get the help you need when you need it as your chosen mentor may not be available or they may not be willing to give you much time.
Specialist mentoring. I will often ‘buy an hour’ from someone whom I have met or whose advice I seek when a specific issue comes up. This is useful if you don’t need an ongoing relationship but just need an expert to help you with a gnarly issue.
Recently I got in contact with an advisor that I worked with as part of the British Library’s Growth Programme, for some additional support over a business strategy that I was currently developing. I like the simplicity and clarity of this type of exchange and it also means that I’m respecting the value of the time of the people that I work with.
What to look for in a mentor
This is my checklist, but you will have your own criteria and different mentors will serve you in different ways.
Experienced: I like to work with people who have been there before in some way, so they can advise on the best way forward. Experience and results matter a lot to me.
Character: They need to be someone that I trust and is ethical in what they do.
Connected: Have relevant contacts and connections (though you can’t assume that these will be made accessible to you)
Honest: I want them to tell it like it is – no dancing around the issues and no molly coddling.
Interested in my success: I want them to want me to be successful and feel like they want to be a part of that.
No ego attached to advice: A mentor is an advisor, you don’t have to take their advice and I want a mentor that is happy to advise me, but recognise that this is my journey and I may not choose to act on it.
Finding your mentor
Look for recommendations or book a call with someone that you think might be a suitable mentor (like me :D). Also look for a track record, testimonials and experience in the area that you are seeking mentorship on.
There are some organisations that offer mentor match-making services and there are organisations that you can contact to pay for mentoring. The problem with mentor-matchmaking services is that you don’t really know who you are going to be connected with.
Finding a free mentor
If you want to find a mentor without paying, you may find yourself on a longer journey – particularly if you are looking for a formal mentoring relationship.
Mentoring of this type will usually start with a relationship and often will be triggered by the mentor rather than the mentee. The mentor will see something in you that they want to support and will reach out with their advice.
You can ask someone to be your mentor, but be quite careful about this, particularly if you don’t know the person you are asking very well, as it can be awkward and put the other person on the spot, which may make them feel uncomfortable.
You must build a relationship first, so that they are inspired to help you. Also, this type of mentoring will often be ad-hoc with advice being given over a coffee or during a meeting.
They may offer to support you or introduce you to someone out of their own generosity rather than personal gain.
What’s in it for the mentor? I think the pleasure of knowing that we have supported someone else in their journey. Personal impact is one of life’s great motivators, and this is an easy way to give it.
You may find that you are being mentored already but just don’t realise it! Many mentors won’t call themselves mentors, but that doesn’t stop them from being one.
Mentoring can give your business an enormous boost if you get the right person on board and can really help you turn a corner if you are stuck. If you would like to have a free strategy call, please feel free to book in a session here and I look forward to finding out more about you and your business.