5 tips to finding and working with a mentor
Whether it’s for advice, a pep-talk or just knowing you have someone ‘in your corner’, sharing the load makes a huge difference.
Starting and running a small business is tough. And it can be lonely. You’re responsible for revenue, profits, paying salaries, recruiting and retaining good people, and the culture of the workplace. If you work on your own, it gets harder again – for everyone but the most ardent introverts, it’s not long before you find yourself talking out loud to the pot plants in your small office or home office.
Also, there’s no shortage of people you meet in business who are willing to give you free, (and often unsolicited), advice. You need to be careful you don’t take too much input from too many sources, especially given a wide range of skill and experience levels of those people offering it.
We all have blind spots (have you heard about the Johari Window into Quadrant 2, the Blind Area?) and a mentor with good insight will know what these are, and where they might derail your efforts. They will also know how to give you a nudge in the right direction when you veer off course.
My mentor, my experience
Directly below, I give some advice on how to find and choose a mentor. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I have broken two of the rules I set out.
The first is that your mentor should not be a friend. Second, your mentor should not be an investor in your business. In my case, my mentor Nik is both. So, when I advise you to steer clear on these two points, I have first-hand experience of the issues that can arise. It’s only because of my respect for Nik’s significant leadership skills and our ability to compartmentalise conversations that it works as well as it does.
Nik used to be my boss. He was someone I learnt a huge amount from when we worked together, and he is someone I respect. He also knows where my weak points are, when and how to push on them, and when to step in with a guiding, supporting hand.
We meet monthly over coffee, (i.e. somewhere neutral), and spend an hour or so together. I go to these meetings with bullet points around the challenges I am facing from a business perspective and from a personal leadership standpoint. We talk them through and Nik gives me his ideas on where I should be putting my focus.
Nik will also put me on the spot, asking questions and following up on how well I have actioned his advice from previous meetings. This is the moment when I start sweating. It’s like talking to my boss, except I know his is putting me under this pressure not to benefit himself or his business, but to help me improve in mine.
When you are your own boss, this sweat/pressure moment is incredibly important. We all need a little bit of ‘stick’ in the equation to stay sharp, to challenge ourselves, and to focus on the medium and long term. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and a good mentor helps you lift your eyes up off the road right in front of you and make sure your destination is still the right one.
My top 5 tips for finding and working with a mentor
- Work out what your biggest pain-points are in your business, or in yourself, and choose a mentor who has a track record of success in that area
- Your mentor should be someone who scares you a bit. A bit of fear focuses the mind, and your mentor should be someone you want to impress
- Hold scheduled, regular monthly sessions. Never cancel a meeting, but be flexible if your mentor needs to postpone
- Have a bullet point document to capture what was discussed at your last meeting, and what you’re going to focus on for the next month
- Keep it clean. Your mentor should not be a friend or an investor in your business
My advice is to get a mentor if you don’t currently have one. If you need help finding one, use your network, especially your 2nd degree connections in LinkedIn. Don’t expect a 100 per cent strike rate, but ask for an introduction, put forward your proposed approach to your desired mentor(s), and see how you go.
Many successful business people love to help others who are building their businesses, and get a real kick out of giving back. This is a valuable resource that will definitely improve your chances of success.
Excerpt reproduced with permission from Real Time Minds.