Why You Need a Mentor, and How to Find One
Every successful person has a mentor. That mentor might be a teacher, parent, sibling, political hero or business associate. One mentoring organisation reports that 25 percent of high potential employees plan to resign within a year, so it becomes increasingly critical for organisations to find new ways to retain top talent. Example of famous mentor relationships include Plato and Socrates from historical times and these mentor-mentee relationships:
- Richard Branson enlisted help from Sir Freddie Laker
- Frank Sinatra learned from Bing Crosby
- Charles Schwab received financial advice from Andrew Carnegie
- Robert Friedland was a mentor to Steve Jobs
Joseph Campbell conducted a study of hero legends that found the mentor a recurring theme in every culture and historical period. Think about the role Yoda, Mr Miyagi, Mufasa & Gandalf played! That’s why business organisations increasingly support in-house mentoring programs, web based people platforms, peer-to-peer groups and other strategies that bring together mentors and mentees.
What Is a Mentor?
Mentoring and coaching are similar. Mentoring tends to focus on developing long-term abilities, career advancement and leadership skills while coaching focuses on narrow skill sets that are needed immediately for a given job. Mentoring relationships are usually voluntary on each side, but some companies have mandatory mentoring programs to develop talent. The primary elements of business mentoring include improving job performance, counselling workers, sharing knowledge and developing career skills.
Why You Need a Mentor
Mentors can provide the wisdom and knowledge that experienced people learn over the course of many years. Mentors have connections, tips, suggestions and troubleshooting advice that often take beginners years of experience and multiple failures to learn. A respected mentor can prevent many career roadblocks, recommend ways to advance more rapidly in your career and provide a role model for thought leadership. You can gain insights that extend beyond your personal experience. The right advisor can become a valuable long-term resource that you can turn to many times throughout your life. Mentors inspire, show what’s possible and identify the best strategies for achieving your goals.
Best Practices and Tips – How to Find a Mentor
Many companies and online organisations offer formal mentoring programs and forums that connect mentors and mentees. The following best practices and strategies can simplify how to find a mentor, but maintaining the relationship takes effort:
1. Where to Look for Mentoring Candidates
There is a wealth of formal, informal and casual opportunities for finding a mentor. You can find mentors among your network contacts and social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others. Many organisations sponsor mentorship programs across a range of industries and professions. There are even mentorship programs for aspiring entrepreneurs. Forbes recommends several strategies on how to find a mentor:
- Looking outside the office among friends, neighbours, trade associations and clubs and activities in which you participate
- Searching your favourite social network – LinkedIn is an ideal choice – for people from your hometown, alma mater, church group or past associations
- Checking whether your employer offers a formal coaching or mentoring program
- Concentrating on building a two-relationship with industry thought leaders
- Investigating whether there are any local mentoring programs in the areas where you live or work
- Joining a Mastermind group, which are peer groups that hold their members accountable for performance and offer them peer assistance
- Choosing more advanced fellow employees, more experienced students or older friends, family members and associates
2. Look for Someone Whom You Aspire to Emulate
Mentors can come from any area of your life that you’d like to develop – they’re not just limited to business relationships. You might become a more effective person by developing your athletic ability, polishing your social skills or developing new skills like singing, dancing, cooking or crafting medieval armour. People whom you admire make the best mentors even if their experiences don’t always match your business or industry. Matching core values and interests, however, is a critical step.
3. How to find a Mentor Who Aligns with Your Skills and Personal Values
It’s important to match a candidate’s values and skills with your own abilities and core beliefs so that you don’t have to adopt the kind of positions that you don’t support. The best strategy for how to find a mentor is to find someone who shares your belief system. For example, if you’re a front-of-the-house person who enjoys interacting with people, you won’t be happy running accounting software or IT applications in the background.
4. Use Social Media to Get a Holistic Profile of Mentoring Candidates
You can always choose to emulate informal role models, but true mentorship involves a type of give-and-take that requires a deeper mutual relationship. That’s why it’s so important to get a holistic view of potential mentors before choosing to pursue a multilayered affiliation. You can use social media to research industry thought leaders, find like-minded peers and develop a more holistic profile on potential mentors.
There are also social media networking sites – some paid and some free – that bring together mentors and mentees. You can use social media for research by following potential candidates, finding out who is respected in your industry, asking for informal advice to gauge receptivity or just exchanging a few tweets or SMS messages to foster a growing relationship. The more you know, the better able you’ll be to choose an appropriate mentor or coach.
Using LinkedIn is particularly effective because you can network immediately with potential mentors. If you don’t find the ideal candidate, you can use the power of referrals to narrow your search and zero-in on the right person for your needs. LinkedIn also allows you to take advantage of any mutual connections to facilitate introductions.
5. Craft Your Approach
It’s critical to plan your approach on how to find a mentor because you don’t just need to find one – you need to engage him or her and secure cooperation in the mentoring arrangement. That means you just can’t find someone and immediately ask him or her to be your mentor. Once you’ve found a likely candidate, research the person, establish informal contact and then sound him or her out on the idea of mentoring you. It sounds trite, but most people respond positively when you compliment them by asking them to become mentors. Ask detailed questions, listen to any advice that you’re given and follow some of the advice. Explain how well the advice worked or where you encountered difficulty.
Other approach strategies on how to find a mentor include:
- Try to meet personally, but if that’s not possible, make a phone call or arrange a meeting in a social environment.
- If all else fails, send a detailed email. Ask the candidate for a meeting or video conference to discuss the issue in further detail.
- Explain why you think the person would be a good advisor for you based on his or her accomplishments, strengths and attitudes that complement your core values and skills.
- Make a strong case for the relationship by offering reciprocal benefits – such as advice on a shared hobby, discussion of common interests or possible ways that you can bring benefits or skills to the relationship.
- Estimate how much time and attention you think you’d need and how much time you’d be able to devote to reciprocity.
- Clearly explain that you’re looking for guidance and advice and not tutoring.
- If connecting through a mentoring site or work-related mentoring program, follow the site’s policies or the program’s recommended guidelines.
- Let the mentor take the lead in establishing limitations and formats for collaboration.
- Tell mentors how you prefer to receive feedback, but listen if the person recommends another method.
- Demonstrate your willingness to follow advice, suggestions and alternative methods for achieving your goals.
- Never get defensive, but thank your advisor for each tip or suggestion.
6. Respect a Mentor’s Time
A mentor’s time is a precious resource that he or she grants you to further your goals. You should always be considerate of time factors by preparing your comments succinctly. Don’t waste a lot of time on social chat unless the mentor initiates this kind of discussion. Return messages and phone calls as quickly as possible, and try to be on time for any in-person meetings or scheduled communications. Keep discussions within any agreed-upon time limits unless your advisor suggests extending the discussion. Never intrude on your mentor’s personal life – and you should never assume that you are personal friends unless the mentor clearly pursues such a relationship.
7. Don’t Bail When Things Get Tough
The reason for mentoring is to find ways to manage difficult projects and learn challenging skills, so don’t expect your mentor to make things easy for you. Unless you challenge your abilities, you won’t grow and develop. That’s why it’s critical not to bail when things get difficult. The whole purpose of mentorship is to learn how to accomplish difficult tasks. If you quit when things get tough, you’ll get no value from the relationship and learn nothing.
8. Do the Essential Tasks
The mentee must do the essential tasks that his or her advisor assigns. You identified a person with the requisite skills when you researched how to find a mentor, so you can’t ignore the ‘homework’ that your advisor requests of you. This might require outside reading and research, learning practical applications in real-world settings, earning industry certifications or taking classes to develop new skills. Leadership mentoring might require public speaking, publishing thought leadership papers or other challenging activities in the community.
9. What Not to Say
It’s important that you make it easy for your mentor, so avoid strategies that demonstrate inflexibility. Never suggest that none of a mentor’s suggested meeting times works for you – make the time by changing your own schedule. Don’t make the relationship all about you and your needs. Consider how you can make your mentor’s life easier or better. Avoid being defensive or argumentative, but it’s acceptable to question advice if you don’t understand it. Don’t question any assigned tasks and background work; you chose a counsellor for advice, so it’s critical to follow it. During meetings, keep an open body posture and show attention and interest. Crossing your arms, rolling your eyes and other physical actions can speak volumes of information that you should never express to your mentor.
10. Make the Relationship Reciprocal
Like any relationship, mentoring works best when there are benefits for both parties. You can’t expect anyone to volunteer his or her time and get nothing in return, so try to make the relationship a two-way association where each party gets something. Reciprocal mentoring is becoming more common because almost everyone has some skill, talent or resource that could prove beneficial to a mentor. Reciprocal relationships double the potential for growth. Sharing articles, thought pieces, books is great start. Younger employees could help older people in digital processes and social media. You could also offer advice on hobbies, sports performance, outdoor skills, speaking a foreign language or other skills that you have.
11. Ask for Feedback
Constructive criticism can be difficult to receive – especially from someone whom you admire – but soliciting feedback is critical for growth. You don’t just want praise; it’s vital to find out what you’re doing wrong. Ask specifically about what you’re doing wrong and how you could do better. You should seek feedback as frequently as possible without becoming a burden to your mentor. If you have an important presentation, meeting, sales call or formal performance review process coming up, ask your advisor for advice – even if he or she is the boss who will be attending the meeting. Ask how best to prepare, of if that’s impractical, consider how to find a mentor or coach for immediate advice.
It’s not just about how to find a mentor, but how to maintain the relationship. Honesty, transparency and respect are critical elements. Ideally, you’re forming a long-term relationship that benefits you and your mentor. That’s why it’s critical to give back when possible – even if it’s only buying lunch, a round of drinks or some dark chocolate. Mentoring has become increasingly critical in today’s competitive recruiting and retention strategies for employees. That’s why many companies are organising formal mentoring programs. These programs help to develop talent in-house and to achieve company business goals. Finding a strong advisor can take your career to the next level and ensure that there’s always someone to guide you when you face difficult tasks. If your company doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, you can always investigate how to find a mentor using your own resources.