In today’s business world, I believe the need for a trustworthy advocate — also called a mentor — has lost its appeal and priority. I’ve found mentorship for leaders isn’t often talked about these days, which is unfortunate because some of the most profound life and business lessons I’ve ever learned arose from these types of relationships.
A great mentor is someone who has taken the journey before you and can help minimize a common problem seen in businesses today. They are a resource who sits outside your day-to-day operations and, therefore, has a broader view that can help you overcome cognitive traps and solve problems in innovative ways. A great mentor helps fan the flames of the mentee. They understand that there is a significant amount of time spent in continuous development — a tedious and sometimes difficult activity — that takes place to actualize the desired outcome. A great mentor serves as tangible proof that a well-attended, well-executed strategy can indeed get you to where you want to go.
Whether you’re a manager or a member of your company’s C-suite, here are a few of my tips for developing a lasting mentor-mentee relationship:
Clarify your expectations from the start. This isn’t the time to be shy. There are a number of benefits to having a mentor, most of which can be realized if the initial objectives and processes are clearly understood at the outset. The value of the mentor-mentee relationship is first and foremost determined by the level of commitment and consistent engagement of both parties. It’s critical to find a mentor you trust, respect and have related experience with. Make sure they understand and identify with the current stage you’re at in your career and business development by explaining where you desire to be in the next one, five and ten years.
Build an ever-evolving mentor candidate list. Identify the real people you most aspire to learn from, and make a contact list that includes your observations of their successes, character strengths and skills that make them ideal candidates for you.
As you’re crafting this list, consider the qualities of a helpful mentor: They can help establish boundaries, craft strategies, build accountability, provide alternative perspectives and identify your leadership blind spots in a way that will not diminish the relationship. They may also make valuable introductions between you and people or organizations that could be helpful to your professional and personal development. Great mentors are advocates, advisors and coaches.
Be present with your mentor, and make the most of your time. Clear personal distractions. This means no multitasking, no texts, no emails and no calls when you’re meeting. We’ve all likely heard the saying, “Time is money.” I’ve found that highly successful people often see time as their most precious asset. Therefore, they hold it sacred. Mentors are time-conscious, too.
Here are a few ways to better leverage your time with your mentor:
- Your first meeting: Be prepared with questions, and speak specifically about the things you are looking to gain from the relationship. Making clear what you want saves both parties time, opens up a meaningful conversation and clarifies the expectations of the relationship for both parties from the get-go.
- When seeking guidance: It is your responsibility to keep up the cadence of the relationship. The success within this type of relationship rests in consistently connecting with your mentor. Whether it is once a month or once a week, it is important to agree to a schedule that works for both parties — and stick to it.
- In the end: All mentor-mentee relationships are not created equal. Be prepared for a transition if you both agreed upfront to a specific period of time or if you have evolved to a point that requires engaging in a different mentor relationship altogether. One mentor may or may not be best suited to achieve all of the goals you have identified as important.
Remember, it’s OK to seek guidance (even if you’re a seasoned executive).
I’ve observed there can be truth in the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.” Everyone needs a trustworthy sounding board that serves the relationship in a capacity that goes deeper than just another opinion, especially if you’re a more established executive. “More established” often means you’re experiencing many of the challenging aspects of developing, growing, and sustaining a profitable business. As I have evolved and become a more established entrepreneur, my inner circle has become smaller on purpose. And while potential mentors might be fewer and farther between, I believe we all need someone we trust who will, in a kind way, let us know when we need to do better.
When you are immersed in day-to-day activities, there will be times you can’t see clearly how things will progress into the future. As a leader, it’s very easy to lose your perspective, patience, and peace. While solitude is sacred, I believe a trusted support system that includes quality mentors, advisors, or coaches is vital for shaping and sustaining a productive, profitable and enduring business and leader.
Being a seasoned executive doesn’t automatically equate to being a person who is skilled in building enduring relationships with people. The skill in developing lasting mentor-mentee relationships occurs more naturally as a seasoned executive finds value in people for reasons that go beyond their own personal gain.
Simply put, the mentors with whom I have had experience embodied — in their own unique ways — the strengths, expertise, and wisdom called for in times when I could not see clearly. The relationships between my mentors and I helped reveal my own blind spots. This dynamic also helped me gain the broader perspective I needed to solve problems, further expand my own awareness and effectively execute business strategies, despite the magnitude of challenges I was facing at the time.