Some Thoughts on Mentorship

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I’ve been thinking a lot about mentorship lately and how I’ve been fortunate to have impactful “mentors” for most of my personal and professional life. When evaluating investments or hiring people, I often ask people to tell me about their mentors/ advisors — surprisingly, it turns out, a lot of people have a hard time identifying or locking down mentors/ advisors. I’ll start by telling you that though it may seem hard on the surface, in reality, it’s just a question of figuring out some key steps. A good mentor can be a great sounding board, devil’s advocate, or a voice of experience — depending on what the situation demands. I’ve even tapped into mentorship for my company about.me: we have 26 advisors that provide a range of insight and credibility. Some tips:

1. Be clear in what you expect from a mentor. A lot of that has to do with your next steps and a good sense of your goals. It’s tactical and strategic input, not a magic wand. What do you want to learn? Where do you need to grow or be more motivated? Or do you need a sounding board? The more you know about your needs, the better your odds of identifying the right person(s). One of my favorite sayings is “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” — :)

2. Look within your network to identify potential mentors. Focus on people you truly respect and who resonate with you. It’s not important that you know the person well, but it does help to have some familiarity. Avoid people who have too much time on their hands — I find they can be a bit intrusive. Don’t be afraid to pick a mentor from a different industry, gender, or generation.

3. Keep it informal, keep it flexible. I never make it official except for when the mentors are serving my company in the role of advisors. Most entrepreneurs like to give back but their most scarce resource is time and they often want to avoid additional “official” expectations on their time. The essential paradox is that the very people you would want as mentors are exactly the same people who simply don’t have the time to serve in that role, because they’re doing the things that make them good mentors in the first place.

4. Keep it fluid. I’ve had some mentors for 10+ years and others for less than 6 months — both types have been incredibly helpful. Set up a loose structure for meetings and other communication, with the understanding that it may change as the relationship grows. I’ve found the best, most committed monitors/ advisors, are those people that over time just became part of my world. I think it’s powerful to constantly be open to adding new people as informal advisors.

5. Meet consistently. This is hard to do without it becoming a burden for the mentor. Remember, mentors typically are busy. Make it easy, go to them, meet them at a convenient location that fits their schedule. Keep it short and always send a follow up note of thanks. Make your relationship reciprocal by letting them know how their advice is making an impact, mentors like to make a difference and be on a winning team.

Mentors take an interest in you because they believe in you. By telling them about what makes your world, your work special, you are offering your perspective. They’ll enjoy that, regardless of their success, especially if you’ve taken the time to get to know them, their personal goals and you’re offering something relevant.

When you create relationships with intelligent, credible and inspirational people, the potential for personal and professional success grows exponentially.

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