Learning From the Best

Finding a Good Mentor

To be able to click with your mentor and have an easy rapport is the goal. Kathi Huntley, a leadership coach with Advance Power Leadership International in Saint Jo, Texas, knows the whole mentoring process well. Not only is she a mentor and coach for her clients, but she was also mentored by a leadership coach. "The best mentor doesn't make you reliant on them," she says. Rather, they help you find what you really want to do and come up with feasible ways to get there.

When searching for a mentor, there are some key questions to ask, says Huntley. Do you have a rapport with this person? Do you feel like you can raise questions? Does he or she ask about your dreams and desires for your business? And once you've found someone, like so many things in business, it's the level of communication you have with your mentor that will determine the success of the relationship.

The communication channels were clear when Matt Springfield hooked up with his two mentors, Kent Hill and Harry Carneal. Springfield, 29, founded Elliptix LLC, a Dallas-based information security firm, in January 2002, under the direct guidance of Hill and Carneal. The three are so in sync that both mentors serve on the Elliptix board of directors.

Springfield met his mentors while working at an investment firm where the two worked. Hill was the first to take him under his wing. "I traveled with Kent [for nearly a year] and learned quite a bit from him," says Springfield. "Specifically, [watching] his presence in meetings has really taught me to sit back and observe."

Especially in venture capital meetings with business owners, "Kent had a way of sitting back, listening and studying," says Springfield. "It's almost like a poker game. He'd extract the information that [we] needed."

For someone in the security business, that "sifting through the nonsense" skill seems invaluable. And Carneal brought something else to the table: He helped Springfield bridge the gap between the technology that was his forte and the plain-speaking consumer. "I typically will go into a little too much detail," says Springfield. "[Carneal] helps me to build the actual presentations to where they make sense, [as] my mind doesn't think like a consumer's mind."

Not sure how to find a mentor? Check out these tips.

And it's not only their business skills that Springfield wants to emulate. He says it's Hill and Carneal's ability to meld work and family life so well that inspires him. "They're family men," says Springfield. "How they are still able to [maintain] a good balance [between] family and work has been important to me." With sales expected to hit nearly half a million for 2002, Springfield's emulation has certainly paid off.

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This article was originally published in the August 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Learning From the Best.

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