Q: How do I find a mentor?
A: I’ve been fortunate to have impactful “mentors" for most of my personal and professional life. A good mentor can be a great sounding board, devil's advocate or a voice of experience -- depending on what the situation demands. I’ve even tapped into mentorship for my company about.me: We have 26 advisors that provide a range of insight and credibility.
Finding a mentor may seem like a daunting task, but it’s really not that difficult -- and both the process and outcome can be quite rewarding.
Here are some tips to help get you started on your quest of finding a great mentor and establishing a lasting relationship:
1. Understand your goals and set clear expectations.
You need to understand your goals. A mentor provides tactical and strategic input, not a magic wand. So start by asking yourself a few key questions: What do you want to learn? Where do you need to be more motivated? Do you need a sounding board? The more you understand your needs, the better your odds are of identifying the right person.
One of my favorite sayings is "when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
2. Look within your network to identify potential mentors.
Focus on people you truly respect and who resonate with you. It’s not important that you know the person well, but it does help to have some familiarity. Don’t rule out a mentor from a different industry or generation. In fact, sometimes an outside perspective is the most valuable point of view.
3. Keep it informal and flexible.
I never label a mentorship except when in a formal capacity (for example, when mentors are serving my company in the role of advisor). While most entrepreneurs like to give back, they often want to avoid additional "official" expectations on their time -- their most scarce resource. The essential paradox is that the very people you want as mentors simply don't have the time to serve in that role because they're doing the things that make them good mentors in the first place. Don’t be fearful of reaching out but being respectful of time is important to keep in mind.
4. Keep it fluid.
I’ve had some mentors for more than 10 years and others for less than six months -- both types have been incredibly helpful. Set up a loose structure for meetings and other communication, with the understanding that it may change as the relationship grows. I’ve found the best, most committed mentors and advisors are those that naturally became part of my world over time. I think it's powerful to constantly be open to adding new people as informal advisors.
5. Meet consistently.
This is hard to do without it becoming a burden. Make it easy for each other and meet at convenient locations. Keep it short and always send a follow up note of thanks. Make sure the relationship is reciprocal by letting them know how their advice is making an impact (mentors like to make a difference and be on a winning team.)
Mentors take an interest in you because they believe in you. By telling them about what makes your world and work special, you are offering valuable perspective. They’ll enjoy that especially if you’re offering something relevant and you’ve taken the time to get to know them and their personal goals.
When you create relationships with intelligent, credible and inspirational people, the potential for personal and professional success grows exponentially.