Many of us can recall a teacher, coach, or other person who profoundly impacted our lives during our formative years. They encouraged us to push ourselves further, stretch our capabilities, develop problem-solving abilities, and overcome doubts and insecurities.

In business life, you can hire a business coach, take courses to build your acumen or join a think group. There’s an alternative, non-monetary approach – one that requires trust, respect, a genuine willingness to improve, and valuing the wisdom of others. If you’re serious about improving the health of your business, consider finding a mentor.

A good mentor…

  • Has more experience than you
  • Listens well
  • Has a track record of success
  • Helps you see your part in a situation
  • Holds you accountable
  • Has high values and a good character
  • Is authentic, empathetic, creative, and honest
  • Speaks the truth in a constructive way
  • Is respected by their peers and community
  • Guides you towards developing solutions
  • Has a similar leadership and management style to your own
  • Gives you a different perspective
  • Enables you to consider actions and consequences
  • Keeps your conversations confidential
  • Becomes a trusted ally

What a mentor does not do

  • Solve problems on your behalf
  • Drop everything when you call
  • Accept money for your relationship

Why mentors do it

Mentors talk about the value they receive in helping others as a deeply satisfying aspect of their lives. Sharing experiences, being there for someone else, and seeing another succeed are personal rewards that create a deep sense of connection and community.

How to find one

  • List your strengths (as you see them) and areas you recognize needing work. Be honest with
  • yourself.
  • Seek out someone who can help you develop skills that could be better.
  • Make a list of people you respect and why. Look for patterns to help point you towards possible matches.
  • Think outside the box – avoid ruling out a possible relationship because they aren’t in the same line of work. Strong business skills and experience are transferable between industries.
  • Consider someone you already know – an established relationship with someone in your professional network can provide a good base.
  • Meet for coffee to see if there’s rapport – don’t put them on the spot by asking if they will mentor you before they can take a sip. Ease into the subject, perhaps by asking them about their thoughts on mentorship.
  • Keep it casual – most mentor/mentee relationships aren’t formalized; they have a natural flow.
  • Be prepared with an example of the kind of discussions you’d like to have: how they deal with staff shortages, best practices for meeting deadlines, dealing with demanding clients, etc. Be ready to share what you’ve tried in the past and why it doesn’t seem to be working.
  • Although tempting to ask, well-known industry leaders will likely say no to your request. Be reasonable in your expectations.

Your role

  • Arrange in-person, regular meetings at your mentor’s convenience – if they’re busy, get creative – a short FaceTime or phone call can substitute in a pinch. Limit texts to setting times to meet.
  • Be on time, every time.
  • Don’t expect them to solve your crisis – be prepared to discuss how you think the problem can be addressed. Always be prepared with possible answers.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Respect their time, expertise, and advice – you likely chose them because they’ve walked the path longer than you, so listen carefully before discounting their guidance.
  • Never badmouth them if you disagree – be emotionally intelligent.
  • Be open and willing to learn – if you rebel against every suggestion, either you’re not ready for a mentor, or it’s a bad fit. Don’t mentor hop; it will backfire.
  • Listen carefully to what they share – even if you don’t agree with all they say, try to pinpoint the nuggets of wisdom that do apply or the “aha” moments that provide you with new insight.
  • Thank them! Although mentorship is an unpaid role, appreciate your mentor in other ways – let them know you are grateful for their guidance, acknowledge their impact, and always say thank you.

The hardest step to finding a mentor is recognizing you could use some help. Just go for it, you won’t regret it.

A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.

Bob Proctor