As a coach, you might decide that you don’t need another coach, but rather that what you are really looking for is a mentor. Mentoring, as we’ve covered in other blog posts, is different from a coaching relationship.
Today I want to dive into the benefits of having a mentor, as well as identifying the type of mentors you might look for, and how to find such a mentor.
Why do you need a mentor?
- To stimulate your growth
- To challenge you in which areas to improve your skills
- They will provide you with information, knowledge and experience
- They also provide vital encouragement and moral support.
Entrepreneurs of all kinds typically have mentors, as a way to receive wisdom and expertise on an ongoing basis. When you are feeling at a loss, they encourage you not to give up. And they will help you learn self-motivation, discipline, good work habits and how to identify your business priorities.
Moreover, a mentor will stretch you to prepare things you didn’t even realize you needed: a business plan, budgeting, strategic decision-making, and even how to run a marketing campaign. The beauty of having a mentor is you don’t have to ‘fly solo’, because there is always someone there that can provide you with a second opinion.
What kind of mentor do you need?
In my experience, you will need more than one mentor, although not necessarily at the same time. Be open to recognizing when you need one and what type of mentorship would be most appropriate for the challenges you are facing at the time.
Finding a life mentor
They have been there, done that, and even have the T-shirt to show for it! Because of this, a life mentor will show you tough love, teaching you the boundaries that you need in life, as well as noticing your faults, and giving you – at times – brutally honest feedback.
But their constructive criticism is just a way of showing you how much they believe in you. Many times, more than you do. While they foster your character and values, they also encourage you to experience life in ways that allow you to grow.
They show you the short cuts, helping you to clarify your perspective on situations that you are uncertain about. In most instances, they are a life role model, while still advising and inspiring you to grow.
Finding a business mentor
When you decide to go out on your own, you no longer have a boss. It can feel very lonely at the top. Having a business mentor is a great way to feel supported, as well as learning additional leadership skills. They will be a sounding board for your business ideas, as well as a trusted advisors.
Just as important, a business mentor can help you with networking and business connections. They might be able to sponsor you, but they probably know someone who can! Most importantly, in this long-term relationship, you will have space to grow, with the confidence that they aren’t looking to sell you anything!
Perhaps what you need is a spiritual mentor
As a coach, you might find that you are at a place where you focused and invested in your spiritual health, your personal growth and reaching your full potential.
A spiritual mentor will help you on the journey to recover, heal and learn, while keeping you connected with a community. They’ll encourage you to lean into your inner wisdom, rather than seeking external validation.
Perhaps the most important role of a spiritual mentor is the role that they will play with helping you change your perspective on personal struggles and challenges. When you learn to see them as your defining moments, rather than as a problem, you will truly have found the humility of growth!
How to find a mentor
When you are looking for a mentor, start by looking for a personal that shares similar core values, so that they will positively challenge you. They may have different perspectives than yours, but at the core there needs to be some type of alignment.
One way of doing this is to develop a personal reputation of success, such that they begin to notice you! But it’s also important to know what you want in a mentor and what you are looking for. Be realistic, understanding that any relationship develops over time.
Sometimes you pick your mentor, and sometimes they pick you!
Unlike a coaching relationship, the mentoring relationship is built on having a relationship! If you have to ask a mentor “will you mentor me?”, expect the answer to be no. First develop the relationship to the place where it becomes the next logical step!
I was lucky at 25 to find my first mentor in the business that I worked for. He was a consultant to the business, so he was not there full time, but took a good enough interest in me and my work that when he left, he suggested I keep in touch. I was able to use him as a reference in my next job application, and he then took me under his wing to make sure that I excelled in the position!
I didn’t choose my mentor – he picked me! And I would get an earful if I wasn’t living up to his expectations. But sometimes that’s exactly what you need!
In order for a mentor to pick you – you have to show that you are open and ready to learn from them. If you know them in a work setting, do you take problems to them and ask for a second opinion? Are you open and flexible about changing your perspective when they provide you with their feedback?
Can you show them that you are great at what you do and worth them investing their time and energy into for the pleasure of participating in your growth?
The difference between a coach and a mentor
It’s important to realize that mentoring is typically a much longer relationship than coaching is. Additionally, you probably won’t meet with your mentor weekly, unless there is something special going on that needs closer feedback. You might have coffee once a month or go out for lunch every 8 weeks.
Mentoring is often a conversation that happens in an informal setting. Unlike coaching, you don-t have a structured approach or a process that you are following. You won’t necessarily have a specific goal or process in mind for each meet up. Sometimes, you literally meet “just to catch up and see how you’re doing”.
Often, your mentor will have first-hand experience in your line of work or business, whereas a coach doesn’t need to. A coach will focus on developing your skills for the present- future, whereas a mentor will be taking a longer view of what skills you need to develop. They may be pushing you to learn something you will need in your five-year plan, rather than immediate skills.
Looking for a mentor:
There are a number of places that you might find a mentor, apart from where you are working at the moment and previous jobs:
- Online business networks often offer mentorship programs
- Professional networking events
- Volunteering and community events or fundraisers
- Industry events, such as meetups, conferences and seminars
If you are actively looking for a mentor, you should identify someone that you want to imitate. This includes their strengths and weaknesses being similar to yours. If you are an introvert, you might not be a good fit with an outgoing extrovert, unable to meet their expectations of how you “should act”.
Study your potential mentor (better yet, mentorship pool) week. Set realistic expectations of what a mentoring relationship with this potential candidate might look like.
Next, ask them for a meeting. It could be a coffee or lunch, or even a formal meeting. But don’t jump straight in with “I’m wondering whether you would mentor me.” You’re looking for a soft-sell, rather than a cold-call!
Have some questions ready to ask for their opinion on… even possibly ask them for their advice. But remember that this is about getting to know them. Then after your meeting, sit down and consider whether or not it really was a good fit. Were you able to learn from them and connect? What might be your next step in building this relationship?
Making mentorship work for you
Once you’ve built the initial relationship, it’s time to make it work. Just remember, you don’t always need an agenda. Sometimes, it’s as simple as having a conversation about business in general and learning all their perspectives on what is happening in the business world and their interpretation of the market!
Nonetheless, here are some suggestions for preparing for your next meeting with your mentor:
- Keep your goals in mind and speak up about your goals. It doesn’t matter if these are SMART goals, spiritual goals or just personal growth. Be open about what you are working on and willing to listen to their feedback.
- How often are you meeting with them? Typically, you want to meet with them once a month or every 8 weeks, at least. You might have 30-minute coffees more regularly, or possibly even online calls or phone calls.
One of the things that I learned early on was that there would be times I would get a call to say “I’m going to have drinks at X with someone in business that I think you should meet.” Guess what – change your plans and GO. These are all opportunities for networking that they are opening up for you! Don’t think you’re too important to miss them. You never know who they will be introducing you to, and typically you will now have a direct line to reach out and contact this person!
- Have an agenda on hand of things you might want to ask them about or talk about. Do you have a new project that you need some feedback about? What have you read lately that might interest them? Do you have any questions for them about current industry trends? Or perhaps you have a relationship at work that you are struggling with and need someone to give you objective feedback about how to handle it better.
- Stay open to feedback! They will only mentor you for as long as they consider that you value their advice and feedback. This does not mean that you should be a yes-man to what they suggest, but it does mean that you should have a commitment to action.
After you meet with them and go and take action, let them know how it went. Give them a follow up message or a call.
If their advice was truly helpful, let them know with a “thank you”.
- Know when it’s time to move on and find a new mentor. In all likelihood, you will outgrow the relationship and find a new mentor at some stage. That’s a normal progression. It could be after just a couple of years or perhaps five or more years. In any case, even if you outgrow the mentor relationship, keep in touch with them. Maybe once every six months or once a year. They have created value in your life, and they value you. There still may be more value for you both to provide in years to come!
As a coach, it’s easy to get caught up just in coaching and thinking we need a coach. But oftentimes, what we need goes deeper and longer than just overcoming the next challenge.
Build the relationships that will take you further than you imagine, starting with finding a mentor that can help you through the next few years or even the next decade!