In this three-part series, learn how to build a strong mentorship network by understanding where you fit on the mentorship spectrum, how to maximize your mentorship experience, and how to be a good mentor to others.
My previous post talks about understanding the mentorship spectrum and the difference between formal and informal mentorship. Each person will lean towards a preference for one or the other. Some people prefer one-on-one mentorship over coffee, with no follow-up or format, others appreciate more structure, with reporting, agendas, and accountability.
Regardless of your preference, it is valuable to push outside your comfort zones and access as much mentorship as you can find and can fit into your life.
Anyone can be a mentor. But that doesn’t mean anyone can be YOUR mentor at any given time. You will have a flavour of guidance that will work well for you in certain situations that not everyone can provide.
- Sometimes you need a coach who will walk you through a challenge.
- Sometimes you will need a connector who will put you in touch with the right people to help you.
- Sometimes you need a cheerleader who will sing your praises when you need to hear them.
- Sometimes you need a challenger who will call you on your BS and give you a reality check.
Each of these might be a separate person or a few attributes rolled into one. The important part is that you have people with these attributes in your life.
Something I would like to mention is that age is not necessarily a precursor to knowledge and does not automatically make someone a better mentor than someone younger. It is more about a person’s specific knowledge, experience, and expertise. I bring this up because culturally we have this image in our minds of what a “mentor” should look like and if they are not a Yoda figure, we are not sure if they count. I believe it is really important to be open to learning from anyone and everyone because you never know how the things they learned along their path might help you along with yours. Wisdom and folly are equal opportunists, regardless of age.
How do you find the right mentor for right now?
It is likely that any person who has had any success in their life will tell you that they didn’t get to where they are on their own. They will tell you that they had mentors in their life that helped them at different points along the way. That said, no one can really help you until you are ready and willing to accept it so I think the more prepared and open you are the better. The best way to get prepared and open up is to reflect, reflect, and reflect some more!
1. Reflect on the challenges you are facing.
What do you need the most help with? What is keeping you up at night? Is there something you are dealing with that you are not sure your friends would really understand?
2. Reflect on the style of mentorship you think you need right now.
If you know the topic you need to focus on, it will help you figure out the style of mentorship that will suit you best.
Do you need someone to sit down and talk you through an issue? Do you want a variety of feedback on an idea and the approach you think you want to take? Do you need someone to share their experience with a particular problem? Do you need someone to hold you accountable for some goals you set? All of the above?
3. Reflect on who in your network can help you find someone.
Once you know the problem and the style of mentorship you need, you can decide if you already have someone who can help you, or if you need to focus on an outside person/group.
Is there someone in your network who can help you? If not, where can you look for someone that can help you with your particular needs? I mention a few places to look in my previous post, but some examples of places to look would be meetup.com, entrepreneur groups, professional association groups, and searching Linkedin groups for potential mentors and reaching out.
4. Reflect on the time and effort you can put into your mentorship relationship.
Once you know who, think about the how.
Before you reach out, make sure you have a clear idea of what you can put into this mentorship relationship. Regardless of the level of formality, you need to be prepared. You need to know what you want to get out of the time they are giving you. If your mentor/group is putting the effort in, you need to make sure that you can too.
5. Repeat, regularly!
Every time you are floundering, go through this process. The answers will not always be the same, but they will help you access the right kind of help, from the right person/people, at the right time.
How can you maximize your time with your mentors?
Not every mentor is going to require the same level of time and commitment, but regardless, you need to be prepared. Even for a coffee chat, you should have an idea of the questions you want to ask and the outcomes you hope to get out of it. For a more formal group, you need to have your pre-work done and your mind ready to walk through your topic.
Missing meetings, showing up late, not doing any preparation at all…these are all the things that make a mentor not want to work with you. These should really go without saying, but it is a matter of respect.
As someone who leans toward the preference of structure (SHOCKING I know), I think that you can up your game, even in an informal mentorship relationship, by:
- Creating a meeting rhythm – If it is appropriate for the kind of mentorship you are seeking, meet regularly. Even if it is once a month on the last Tuesday for a drink after work, there is value in knowing that you have a set time to touch base.
- Prepare for every meeting – This might just be a few notes on your phone, but you should come to each meeting knowing generally what you want to talk about and what you hope to get out of the meeting.
- Create some accountability – If you meet regularly you can consider reporting each time you meet, or perhaps between meetings, on your progress on whatever you are working towards. This might be just a verbal update, or it might be an agenda item, but it gives you a push to keep moving on your goals.
- Do what you say you will do – You don’t have to act on every bit of sage advice thrown your way, but follow through on your commitments. For example, if your mentor connects you with someone in their network, make sure you follow up with it.
- Be grateful – I don’t mean that you need to grovel, but a small thanks every once in a while can go a long way to telling your mentor that you appreciate their time and expertise.
What are the greatest benefits of having mentors? There are many reasons to have mentors in your life, but to me, the most important ones are:
- Reflection – Mentorship relationships force you to reflect on yourself, your weaknesses and strengths, your goals, and everything in between. Knowing yourself really well, and having a variety of people who can help you, is invaluable.
- Accountability – Words are easy to say, but action and forward movement are much harder. Having mentors in your life helps push you to figure out and take the steps you need to get where you want to go.
- Leadership – The knowledge that is shared by your mentors with you can be shared with others. In a mentorship relationship, you will learn the types of leadership, guidance, feedback and tools that helped you. It is only right that you would also share them with others who seek out your mentorship.
It takes a lot of work, but you can find people who will be amazing resources when you need them. If you make the most of these relationships by putting in the time and effort to follow through on your commitments and goals, you can make incredible leaps forward in your personal and professional growth.