When I started my business many years ago I was pretty head strong, convinced that I could do it all alone and in truth I could do many things but one thing that struggled with was “getting out of my own way”. We have all been there; doubting our own ability, lacking confidence in our own decisions and choices but pushing on regardless hoping that no one will notice our flaws. It was not until I became The CEO of the Islington Chamber of Commerce that I decided to look for a mentor. Why? Because I could not hide anymore, in such a public facing post I need a guide, an inspirational figure to share ideas and thoughts with. I was lucky to have find quite a few mentors. When I realised the value of having good quality mentors had on my leadership ability it became a complimentary part of my professional and business journey. My only regret was not finding one sooner in my business life. But what is mentoring, why does it matter so much and how can you find the right mentor for you?
Mentoring is a powerful process of guidance and support which can have an amazing impact on the progress of an individual’s business or professional journey. It is a relationship between a mentee and mentor (who share similar professional experiences ideally) in which both parties gain an insight into their own capabilities however the mentor has more experience than their mentee. A mentor is NOT a coach nor is a mentor or a counsellor. A mentor guides their mentee, helping them find the solutions to issues and to see issues in a new light. Having been a mentee and mentor I know how valuable it is to have this space to enable someone to grow and realise the fortitude of their possibilities.
Ideally a mentor will instill a sense of confidence and belief in their mentee, something which was most definitely lacking in the early stages of my own business career. Having a great mentor can make a real difference in someone’s professional and business growth. However here a few things to remember:
- Being a mentee does not mean that you have to lose your sense of identity – do not try to emulate your mentor, they are great but so are you!
- A mentor is NOT a coach or a psychologist – don’t share every single aspect of your emotional weaknesses with your mentor; that’s not what they are there for. If you feel like you need that kind of help you need to look elsewhere.
- Be bold and be brave when seeking a mentor – Don’t feel that anyone is “above” you if you feel like you want to be mentored by them; if they have the time and are willing most people will be happy to mentor you.
- Know when it’s time to let go – mentoring partnerships can last for years or just month, they can lead to lifetime friendships or just short-term connections. Regardless of the length of time know when to let go when the time is right.
Once you have this knowledge it really is about finding a mentor that suits your goals. Take the time to identify the person that you feel would make a great mentor for you, follow them on social media first, research them and pay attention to the content that they share. Don’t feel shy about contacting someone you admire directly via email and don’t be upset if they are unable to help you, you can still be mentored by them virtually and you can always find another mentor, there is nothing wrong with having more than one mentor. But also remember that not everyone you admire in your field needs to mentor you directly. In fact most of the time they have enough resources and content that you can learn from online that technically they can mentor you virtually without ever even meeting or having a conversation with you. They might have videos, podcasts, blogs, interviews, social media, books/eBooks that you can learn from. You don’t have to have any direct communication with that person especially if you’re paying attention to the messages that they share. Also before approaching someone you admire with a question or request sometimes do a bit of digging and see whether they’ve answered your question through a piece of content in the past, it’s very likely that they have but you just have to do a bit of work to find it.
But if you are set on getting a mentor be polite and be patient, the right mentor will find time for you. You might also want to join a network that will assign you a mentor; in business there are a number of organisations for startups, in the world of work you can request for a mentor through your team leader or HR department. If your workplace doesn’t have a mentoring scheme in place then you can ask someone you admire in your organisation to be your mentor.
My final word on mentoring is that every entrepreneur should find someone they admire who can guide them and help them to grow. Go out there and find yourself a mentor and once you’re all “mentored up” go out there and become a mentor yourself![This article has been edited but was originally published in Pride Magazine in April 2013.]