By Catherine Lang-Cline
Lots of people start a business or begin their career thinking that they are all alone on their adventure. Or find themselves surrounded by people that are just like them; recent grad, laid-off employee, or a recent start-up trying to forge their way through the next day. It is at times like these that having a mentor is so important but really anytime is a great time to have a mentor if you want to grow in your career.
We can’t possibly know everything that is going to happen on the road ahead, so there is nothing better than to have someone with experience on our side to be our cheerleader and our guide. A mentor can help you plan your path, break things down into steps, introduce you to key people, have serious conversations about your choices, and hold you accountable. In a panic about something? Contact your mentor. Need a pep-talk? Contact your mentor. Not sure how to handle the call that you just got from an inspector? Call your mentor. See the pattern?
You can have one mentor or you can have a few people. With one mentor, meetings should be scheduled monthly or quarterly and have an agenda covering what you would like to discuss and what the status is of everything you have discussed prior. Stick to this schedule because their time is very important. Also, listen to what they are telling you. If they feel like you are wasting their time they might bail. Even if you don’t agree, listen and discuss why you disagree. You have to do what is best for you but also don’t be afraid to try something new. Discuss to think things through.
It can be a lot more casual if you choose to meet with a few mentoring people that can offer you different things. They could be in different places in their career, have a lifestyle similar to yours, be the person you want to emulate, or be an expert in something that you are not. Just plan an occasional meeting, could be breakfast or lunch, and catch them up on what you have been doing and ask them for their experiences in the areas that you are needing help. Again, keeping in touch will keep you accountable.
Where can you find a mentor? Mentors can be found anywhere but ideally, a good mentor is someone that knows you, at least a little. Tell your family and people that you know that you are looking to find a mentor. Hopefully they can recommend someone that they know fairly well and can introduce you. It doesn’t have to be someone in a completely related field, but close is good.
If someone in your close circle doesn’t know anyone, try networking events in the area of your interest. Start a conversation, see if you have a personality “click” and then set up a time for coffee to talk more to see if this person could be a good mentor for you. Stepping even further out of your circle, is there someone in your field that you would like to emulate? Research how they got to where they are today and come up with your own strategy to do the same. There are also organizations that can offer you a mentor or career coach for a fee. Don’t let a fee make or break your decision because quality it typically achieved when there is “skin in the game.”
Still not convinced that you need a mentor? Let me put it this way, I am sure that you are awesome at what you do, but you are not going to be good at everything, and you are not going to know everyone. I have been in business for 14 years and I still meet with mentors and people that I admire all of the time. The higher level conversations are amazing and all outside of your daily circle. It is great to be challenged and it is great to get answers for things that concern us.
Having a mentor is having a real pro on your team. Most importantly, when you are ready, always reach back and mentor someone else coming up through the ranks or in need of help. You can be a game-changer for them.