While it is important to look up to the best leaders in history as a source of inspiration and guidance, business executives should also identify a mentor with whom they work on a more personal basis. Research about mentorship among leaders has found that the vast majority of CEOs claim that mentors have helped them avoid costly mistakes and advance in their careers more quickly than they would have on their own.
Mentors are important for helping people realize their own potential, as well as forging key industry relationships and gaining important insights. At the same time, not all mentors are created equal and choosing the wrong one can result in frustration, loss of productivity, and even a reduced professional network.
The following are some key tips for finding an ideal leadership mentor:
Look for people who inspire.
The first step in identifying a possible mentor involves self-awareness. You need to look honestly at yourself and identify personal strengths and weaknesses. While a mentor who shares your strengths may have some things to teach, a mentor who is great where you are weak has much more insight and wisdom to impart.
Importantly, excelling in areas where you are weak is not enough to make someone a good mentor. A good mentor also inspires you to improve in these areas. Therefore, a great way to start your mentor search is to figure out what you need to work on the most, whether it is decision-making or communication, and then find someone who inspires you in these areas.
Be open and honest about expectations.
No authoritative guidebook for the mentor/mentee relationship exists. So, when looking for a mentor, you should think carefully about what you want from the relationship and share those expectations with potential mentors.
You should explain clearly why you have identified the person as an ideal mentor and what exactly you would like to learn and how. Avoid saying what you think the person wants to hear, because you need to make sure you get what you need out of the relationship. If the mentor is unwilling to make the desired commitment, move on to someone else.
Shared passions build lasting relationships.
Mentors need to have some degree of enthusiasm about your potential and the things that you want to accomplish. This excitement often derives from shared passions. Therefore, you should think carefully about the issues that you want to tackle in your career and find people who are working on the same problems. These issues can be broad, like education, or something specific to your industry. Whatever they are, be sure that you can articulate why you are passionate about them.
Be creative in the places you look.
Too often, individuals become hindered in their search for a mentor because they look only at people in their own company. While this can be a great place to start, you should also think outside the box. Look at the professional organizations you are a part of or even at the places where you volunteer. Community and church groups, and even family members, can be excellent sources of dedicated mentors. You may also want to think about your alma mater. Were there any professors you particularly admired? Perhaps a professor has a recommendation for a mentor.
Accept that there are limitations to mentorship.
If you are a recent graduate, it is unlikely that you will convince a CEO to become a mentor and, even if you did, that person may not even have the best knowledge to guide you at this stage of your career. Potential mentors can be too experienced, so it is important to look for people who remember what it was like to be in your shoes. Mentors cannot be effective unless they are empathetic. Typically, looking for mentors a couple of levels above your current position will provide the most forward momentum and support.
Remember that mentorship is a two-way street.
Mentors are investing their time in you, and this investment may or may not pay off for them. You, as a mentee, need to work hard to earn the mentor’s respect and show appreciation for this investment. Working hard means curbing your ego to accept criticisms, even if they make you uncomfortable, and trusting trust the mentor’s judgment, even if it does not align with what you wanted to hear.
Create and follow a mentorship schedule.
People have busy lives, and meetings tend to get rescheduled for a wide range of reasons. However, for a mentorship relationship to be successful, you need to make it a priority.
The best way to keep meetings consistent is to set a specific schedule, such as meeting for lunch every first Tuesday of the month. Scheduling something specific makes it easy to remember when the meeting is and avoid calendar conflicts.
When you go to each meeting, come prepared with specific topics that you want to broach. While the mentor may also have questions or advice, this fact should not be assumed. Laying out short- and long-term goals can help guide the content for each meeting.