How To Find A Mentor
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It takes a certain level of independence to start a business, but even those with the most strong-minded visions can always benefit from the wisdom of someone who has been there before. Whether you call this person a mentor, an advisor or even a confidant, the most successful business leaders usually have someone on speed dial who can help provide counsel as they progress in their business career. Here are five tips on how to find that appropriate person and have a successful relationship.
1. Figure out what you're looking for
Do you want a mentor who is going to be able to guide you through very specific steps that pertain to the type of business that you're establishing? Or are you looking for a successful person who can provide more big picture guidance despite not being as familiar with the day to day of your specific industry? Before you choose to seek out someone's counsel, make sure you know what you're hoping to gain from that relationship. If you have a very detailed vision for how you want to set up your clothing business, for example, you may not want another accomplished designer telling you what he or she did. You might benefit more from getting advice from a successful restauranteur on how he or she made their particular brand stand out. You aren't expected to have all the answers—that's what a mentor can help you find—but you should at least know what kinds of questions you'd like to pose.
2. Think about what you can bring to the table
This relationship should be a two-way street. When you’re searching for a mentor, try to find someone who may be able to benefit from your knowledge as well. While many people in leadership positions are eager to share their wisdom with up and comers, it will be a much more comfortable partnership if both people feel like they're getting something out of it. Ask questions about what they are looking to do business-wise and figure out if there are ways that you can provide advice. As someone on the cusp of developing a new venture, you are probably exposed to a litany of opportunities and technology that may not be as obvious to people already in established business paths.
3. Is it a good personality fit?
What is your leadership style? Are you an aggressive, get-it-done-ASAP go-getter or do you prefer to meditate on decisions for a few days before choosing your path? If the person you're looking to for guidance is your exact opposite, they may not be the right match no matter what level of success they've had. Mark Cuban is an incredibly successful entrepreneur, but very few people can get away with acting like Mark Cuban if they don't have that natural predisposition. Look for someone who complements the personality and style you already have.
4. Try to make it happen organically
Sometimes the best mentors don't even know that they are mentors. Making a formal request of someone to "be your mentor" might create unnecessary expectations on both sides. After you've identified the person as someone you'd like to get advice from, keep it simple. Tell them you'd like to grab a drink, coffee, or lunch to pick their brain about whatever element they've found success in. If you already have a friendly relationship, it may not even need that much pretext.
5. Think long-term
If you're looking for someone to help you solve one specific business problem and then move on, you might be better off hiring a consultant than seeking out a mentor. Ideally a mentor is someone who can provide counsel at large as you advance in your career, with the relationship hopefully progressing to the point where you're not at a mentor/mentee level but on a footing where you're both able to equally assist each other with career advice and solutions.
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