Have you been helped in your career by a mentor? I haven’t myself, but after attending a panel discussion featuring the CEOs and founders of five early stage companies, it has me thinking about the value of them.
I am on the board of directors of a local TiE chapter. TiE is a non-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals, established to foster entrepreneurship and nurture entrepreneurs. They put on regular events via 57 local chapters in 14 countries around the globe, and they sponsored this event I am writing about.
Anyway, one of the first definitions of a good mentor the panel offered is someone who “sees the opportunity without asking for a business plan.” Another attribute is someone who truly cares about you, and not just about the business you are trying to build.
Dr. Arvind Raghavan, who has co-founded two startups, says, “Find someone who can look at you and tell you what you are lacking.” He also likes mentors who ask more questions of him than he does of them.
“Find someone who can look at you and tell you what you are lacking.”
The value of mentors is fairly obvious. A mentor is someone who takes an interest in you and helps you learn what you need to know to become more successful. Having mentors lets you learn from people with more experience, diverse perspectives and different personal and professional styles. By observing and interacting with a mentor, you learn more quickly than by trial and error; you get individual attention, encouragement and feedback. You are challenged to stretch, grow and become more self-reliant.
That all sounds great. I mean, who wouldn’t like someone to come alongside us and act as a guide in our profesional journey? But how do you find one?
“If you don’t have an idea about who to ask to be your mentor, find professional organizations that work in the area you’re interested in and look to their leaders,” advises Ken Williams, senior technical advisor at AED Center for Leadership and author of Mentoring the Next Generation. ”Asking to do something as simple as getting a coffee together can be very successful,” Williams said.
“If you don’t have an idea about who to ask to be your mentor, find professional organizations that work in the area you’re interested in and look to their leaders.”
Another great way to engage a mentor is to collaborate on a project that is of interest to both parties. ”Choose something that supports your potential mentor’s work and ask for some help putting it together,” Williams suggested. “This way, you are both invested in completing a goal together that can lead to a deeper relationship during the process.”
So, what are the characteristics of a good mentor? They include:
- A desire to help
- Broad-based and up-to-date knowledge and technical skills
- Life-long learner with aptitude for teaching
- Strong people and communication skills
- High energy levels (and not the first person out the door at closing)
- Positive outlook and sense of humor
- Good manager of time and resources
Here’s what you need to do for your part if you want an effective mentoring relationship:
- Accept responsibility for your learning
- Be open to new ideas and ways of learning
- Communicate effectively
- Accept feedback and act on it
- Be able to ask for help when you need it
I have been the beneficiary of plenty of good advice and support over the years, but as I said, I have never had an actual mentor. Have you? We would love to hear from readers who have had mentoring relationships, either good or bad, positive or negative. Do you have any tips for finding a good one, or on how to structure the relationship so you both get something out of it?
We look forward to hearing from you.