Finding success in today’s competitive world means taking advantage of every opportunity available to you.
While there is a persistent narrative in our culture of the lone wolf or cowboy who plays by their own rules and still succeeds. The reality is that no one makes it to the top completely on their own.
Virtually all successful people have had a mentoring influence in their life, whether it was a teacher, parent or boss, someone served as a role model, coach or cheerleader pushing them out of their comfort zone to success.
But is mentoring a dying art? What do you look for in a mentor? How do you find one? And what can you expect from the mentoring process? We”ll answer all of these questions and more in this post.
A working definition of mentoring
For our purposes here, a mentor is someone who has wisdom. And what exactly is wisdom? It is the combination of knowledge and experience.
A mentor is generally someone who has been in a field for a while and is successful in what they do. Mentoring itself is defined as a relationship between a more experienced person (the mentor) who supports and encourages others (the mentee) in their business or career path. Mentors generally act as a resource for the mentee without micro managing them.
Like many people, I have had the benefit of various mentors throughout the years and they have proved invaluable to my growth and success. In fact, my first forays into internet marketing were because I had watched a friend of mine become very successful working from home on his computer. When I approached him about helping me learn the business, he agreed, but only if we set certain ground rules.
While this was a much more formal arraignment than I was expecting, looking back I can see the value of his approach. Here are the rules we agreed upon:
We were to meet every Wednesday for lunch, each meeting would last approximately one hour, and if one of us couldn’t make it we needed to give the other 24 hours notice. This made the mentoring relationship a priority.
Just like anything else that was important to my businesses success, I had do commit to it and take it seriously.
Now since that first mentoring relationship, I have had others with various people who lived far away from me, some even in other countries. In those cases we would meet by phone, direct message or video conference, but we always had a set time and a regular schedule.
He insisted that our mentoring relationship have a cutoff date of three months. He explained that while he was happy to help, he was not interested in becoming a crutch for me every time I had a problem. Besides, I wasn’t able to pay him and as he explained “I have a life outside of work”.
As it turned out, we have kept in touch over the years and exchange thoughts and ideas regularly, in fact it’s not uncommon for him to come to me for advice now. But having this three month time limit was important for a couple of reasons.
First, it made me focus my attention on him as an asset. Knowing that this reservoir of information was going to dry up one day made me value his time more.
As time wore on, I found myself carrying a small notebook with me so that I could jot down questions and ideas for our next meeting. This is a habit I carry on to this day, although my phone has replaced the notebook.
The other thing it did was give him an out. This wasn’t something that I realized until I started mentoring others. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur or business owner. Some people don’t take direction well or just aren’t organized enough to be their own boss.
This can be very frustrating for the mentor, they put a significant amount of effort into the relationship and if they keep leading the horse to water without having them drink, being able to have a hard cutoff date makes mentoring these people bearable.
In our very first meeting, we set (and wrote down) goals for our relationship. I was quite frankly a little stymied when he ask me what my goals for our meeting were, but luckily for me he had done this before and was able to help out.
We determined that the goals for this mentoring relationship would consist of the following:
- Develop a website specifically for my online marketing activities.
- Develop different marketing strategies for the products and services I offered.
- Monitor and analyze the different marketing strategies using A/B testing to determine the most cost effective processes.
- Come up with a long term (5 year) plan for the business.
Now that we had our goals in mind, we went through and broke each of them down into smaller steps that could be put on our three month timeline.
What is a great mentor like?
Great mentors are like the north star, not a GPS.
Man I love my GPS ! I plug in an address and get turn by turn directions to my destination. I haven’t been lost, even in a completely unfamiliar city in years. The newer ones will even reroute you to avoid traffic delays, construction or accidents.
But back in the early days of navigation, the north star was an important navigation guide.
Using a fixed point in the sky, ship captains could navigate their way across vast oceans traveling from one continent to another.
While today’s captains can go to and from very specific ports using a GPS that maps out an exact route. Using the north star for navigation was much less precise. You could get from one continent to another, but the seas, winds and storms would ensure that you never took the same route twice.
A good mentor is like the north star, not a GPS. They will give you guidance, just not specific direction.
Three signs of a great mentor
How can you you recognize a great mentor? Here’re some crucial signs:
1. They allow you to make mistakes.
The term “Experience is the best teacher” is true. A mentoring relationship is not supposed to save you from all your mistakes, while getting lost in a storm is scary, it may just throw you off course enough that you land in a better place.
2. They avoid becoming the hero.
While this is definitely related to the first point, they need to allow you to fail and make your own mistakes. It’s more than just that. Mentoring can feed into the mentor’s ego.
Being seen as, and thinking of themselves as the one with all of the answers can make them subconsciously want to live up to that expectation. A good mentor will recognize this and only offer the advise that they are qualified to give.
3. They use questions, not answers.
There’s an old saying:
“The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you talk.”
In that respect, the mentoring process is a lot like therapy. A good therapist is there to help you work through issues and problems on your own. They give you tools, advice and suggestions, but you’re the one who has to do the hard work, they won’t do it for you.
A good mentor does the same thing.
Are you ready for a mentor?
We’ve talked a lot about mentoring, mentors, what they do, how they do it, and what makes a good one. But mentoring is a two way street.
If you see the benefits of getting a mentor, it’s important to understand that as a mentee, you have obligations and responsibilities to the mentor as well. Always keep in mind that you are asking for someone to share their hard earned knowledge and experience with you, maybe for free and maybe (like I did) so that you can get into the same business as them and one day become a competitor.
These are some serious things that you’ll want to consider before getting into a mentoring relationship:
Are you coach-able?
This can really be an issue for entrepreneurs, a lot of times we will have our own ideas and ways of doing things.
Perhaps we have been successful in other businesses before and we have a track record of success. Recognize that the things that gave us previous success may not translate into success this time around.
Starting at zero again can be a bitter pill to swallow. You must be able to set aside what you think you know and learn new and different ways to achieve success.
Do you take advice or criticism well?
No adult likes to be criticized or told what to do, but being a mature adult means that you can receive direction and criticism without taking it personally.
Every high school football player realizes that the coach is yelling so that the team gets better, not because he doesn’t like you personally. Likewise, your mentor’s criticism is not directed at you, but rather to get you to your predetermined goals.
Are you committed to the process?
The length of the mentoring relationship can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. If you are not willing to commit the time and effort needed then please don’t even get started.
By having someone to mentor you, they are committing their time and energy to helping you out. Nothing frustrates a good mentor more than someone who is disorganized, who misses appointments or who isn’t willing to put in the time and effort needed.
Additionally, you need to have realistic expectations about the mentoring relationship. I have seen people approach potential mentors solely based on the mentor’s network or connections. The potential mentee sees the mentor as a conduit to get to the people who he thinks can really help his career. This is a big no no.
First of all, it’s a dishonest way to start the mentoring relationship. Secondly, I have never seen it work, and it usually backfires.
Mentors, like all of us, don’t like to be used for ulterior motives, and once your motives become clear it is not only the end of the mentoring relationship, but it usually puts the former mentee’s reputation in jeopardy.
So if your mentor does introduce you to their network, always be respectful and check with your mentor before initiating contact with someone they’ve introduced you to.
Tips on getting a mentor
A lot of people are more than happy to help out someone “new” in the business with advise or direction. But becoming a mentor is a much more involved process.
Before asking someone to be a mentor, have something that you bring to the table. After all, a mentor is agreeing to take you under their wing so your attitude, reputation and success is a direct reflection on the mentor.
Tip #1 – Go the extra mile
In a working environment, potential mentors are always watching and evaluating the new people. They notice the ones who come in everyday exactly at 9 am and leave exactly at 5 pm. And they also notice the ones who come in early, stay late and don’t complain about doing tasks that no one else wants to do.
So by putting in a little extra effort, you will become a much more attractive candidate for a mentor.
Tip #2 – Treat everyone as a gatekeeper.
A gatekeeper is a person who has access to an influential person. The obvious gatekeeper is the boss’s secretary or personal assistant. These are people you don’t want to piss off!
The trickier part is you don’t know all of the relationships that gatekeeper has. So even though you may have a good relationship with the gatekeeper, you might have been rude or unprofessional to a co-worker who is friends with that boss’s assistant. You have just made your life harder than it needs to be.
Tip # 3 – Ask!
Once you have shown yourself to be committed, hard-working and valuable to the organization, you’ll need to be direct and ask for the mentoring relationship.
Don’t expect mentors to seek you out. You’ll need to be the one to initiate the relationship.
Having a good mentor can have untold benefits for your career or business life. By connecting with a mentor, you’ll get the value of their experience and knowledge. But more importantly, a mentoring relationship will give you accountability, milestones to reach, and an accurate assessment of your skills.