By Leslie Youngblood
Every successful entrepreneur can point to a piece of advice they received early in their career that resonated – whether it was from an industry veteran, a professor, or a family member with general business acumen.
And even beyond that, it seems that every one of those role models cites a mentor that has helped shape who they are, and directly contributed to the their professional success.
Yet, I hear so often from the small business owners we work with, and even my fellow professionals and friends in the corporate world: How do I find a mentor?
It’s like this great mystery that everyone wants in on. Do you have a mentor? How’d you get one? Where do I get one? How come I don’t have one? Is something wrong with me?
But the thing that I’ve discovered is this: Most people misunderstand mentorship.
People think it’s about asking a leader you admire to mentor you, which is… Awkward!
Can you honestly tell me that going up to someone you’ve picked and asking them to be your mentor is something you’d be comfortable doing? Then that person is in a position where they most likely feel bad to say no, and obligated to say yes. It’s just so wrong in so many ways.
So, I’ve come up with a few better options to help you find your ultimate, course-changing, work-inspiring mentor.
First, just find someone you admire and want to be like, whether you work with them or know them from your network. Then ask them to coffee to pick their brain about a project you’re working on, a decision you’ve been mulling, or even the industry you’re in. The key here is to invite them to something informal and short, then feel it out from there. The mentorship will either naturally progress as your relationship does, or it won't be the right fit. If it's the former, great! If it's the latter, no biggie. Simply try again with someone new.
Another twist on the traditional mentorship idea is reverse, or mutual mentorship. We've discussed it before, but in this instance, the mentee may be someone in upper management, or even the C-Suite. The mentor? You!
Yes, you have valuable insights and knowledge to share with these senior execs. And it’s extremely helpful for that manager to stay more up-to-date and in-the-know. Also, both parties can dispel preconceived notions about one another to create a perfectly synergistic relationship.
Keep in mind that the best, most beneficial mentorships happen organically. If you meet with someone and it doesn’t feel right, then that’s okay. You can and WILL be successful even if you don’t ever find your magic mentor.
Here’s a parting thought: Maybe since you know how young pros are on the hunt for a mentor as you are, you can try focusing on BEING a mentor. Even if it’s to someone close in age to you, as reverse mentoring shows, there’s always something to learn from each other at various stages.
Then you’ll be on your way to solving your own mentor mystery, and how cool and inspiring is that?
Leslie Youngblood is the Creative Director for Excelerate America, the ultimate resource for entrepreneurs. Do you have a mentor? How did you find him or her? Share your mentorship story with Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.