Like a compass, mentors impact the lives of entrepreneurs and self-starters at every step of the journey, from obtaining startup funds to building laser focus on your goals and vision for your company. Entrepreneurs also come up against challenges that their mentors have already faced and overcome. Connecting you to wider relationship networks, mentors can provide perspectives and help you see beyond your own experiences. Their first-hand insight and knowledge stem from decades of experience.
Knowledge transfer that extends beyond books and biographies involves sitting with your mentors, being curious, and actively listening to their stories and wisdom. So, how can you find your next mentor and that too, within your own network?
Start by aligning your needs with ideal qualities
Finding the right mentor takes care and consideration. Start with brainstorming what you need on one hand, and the ideal skills and attributes you’d imagine your mentor to do or have on the other. Alignment in the areas where you can grow in with your mentor’s experiences would bring even higher value to your relationship. When you understand what you’re seeking in a mentor at this point in your career as an entrepreneur, you’ll have a better awareness when the right mentor comes along. Ask yourself questions to clarify your needs, like the following:
- Do you need networking opportunities?
- Do you need an introduction to great contacts or…
- Advice on evaluating markets or developing your product?
This often works as an initial step, but you may find the best mentors have different personalities and perspectives than your own, which can be invaluable in expanding your perspective when it comes to problem-solving and charting the course of your business plan. Viable mentors also include people with valuable practical experience and commitment to mentoring new entrepreneurs. As you progress in building your company or becoming a leader, your mentors will most likely shift over time. Create a running list or database, updated annually, of potential mentors with the right fit so that you can continue growing at every stage of your life.
Looking within your professional or personal network?
What does discovering these hidden connections look like? It begins with asking the right questions and looking for people beyond your network, in mutual connections, social communities, interest groups, and industry groups. With an understanding of what industry you’re breaking into, you can narrow your focus on potential mentors within a specific industry or a lateral industry.
You may already have a Personal CRM, a directory with all your contacts, or even an infinite list of LinkedIn connections at hand. These are all valuable places to look. You can discover potential mentors within your primary personal network, with people who come from similar communities as you. These personal connections may align with your initial needs and provide a sense of trust and chemistry. You may also find that people a third and fourth degree of separation away from you are both the right fit and delighted to mentor you.
Reaching out to potential and ideal mentors
There are a few paths to connecting with a potential mentor: personal relationships, mutual connections, or “cold” connections. If you already have a personal connection with a potential mentor, don’t hesitate to be honest with them about why you’re looking for a mentor and what you’re looking for. If you have mutual connections, establishing common ground will be beneficial. Building relationships with “cold” connections starts with simply getting to know those potential mentors. As you discover who they are, you can ask questions about what it took for them to get to where they are today.
Adaptability is key
Mentorship comes in many different forms: you might find a long-term mentoring partnership, 15 minutes over coffee, or even a distant mentor through podcasts, videos, or books. If you want to be flexible and adaptable to diverse forms of mentorship, start with being aware of where mentoring is currently taking place in your life, and appreciating those forms.
Showing up for your mentors in your successes by demonstrating appreciation is a kind acknowledgment of the time, effort, and valuable life experiences someone has shared with you. Finally, you can pay the mentorship experience forward the next time you meet a potential mentee, too!