“I get by with a little help from my friends,” sang the Beatles. Not many people get to the next level without the support of others. Great business leaders typically will mention mentors that helped them along. Nobody is above needing guidance; it is finding the person.
I have mentors I’m close with and others I watch from afar to learn from them. Both help me grow as a leader and as a person. Evidence of mentors can be found through the history of nearly every industry. It could be another business leader, a family member, a friend, or someone they have never met. To check out some of those pairings, go to www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs
Makeup of a mentorship
Mentorships can be formal, informal, long- or short-term. They can happen by accident or can be set up by others. You can be mentored by someone and be a mentor to someone else at the same time — these same people can even mentor each other! This is the true beauty of mentorships: there aren’t rules set by any particular standard; it is what the two of you decide.
Topics can be narrow or as wide-reaching as you want. You can stick to business or leadership only, help with solving a particular problem or help get through some of life’s obstacles. Nothing needs to be out of bounds unless you say it is. But with the wide scope comes some risk. They could be the best thing that ever happened to a person or they could be here and gone in a day.
I once met with a potential mentee and thought it went well until they told me they had changed career paths and were going to be leaving school a week later. Was it something I said? Maybe. I’d like to think I perhaps helped them make a major life decision. Often the best thing a mentor can do is help push a mentee into finding comfort in being uncomfortable. Change is not going to happen unless you create some conflict, and conflict is uncomfortable.
You can assist by talking through those feelings so each time a similar situation comes up, they know what to do. And then guess what? Push them to the next level of uncomfortableness. Once they are comfortable there — you got it — give them another little nudge.
That is the continuous cycle of mentorship. It never ends because we never stop growing. And it’s rewarding to see someone believe in themselves and grow when you’ve played a part in getting them there. It also can be rewarding for the mentee, as they see the growth and want more as they see the success that comes with it.
What’s the catch?
Mentorships sound so wonderfully rewarding on both sides, so why doesn’t everyone have a mentor or mentee or why aren’t mentorships a major focus for companies? I believe there are a couple of reasons: it can be challenging at times and it takes a whole lot of trust and guts on both sides.
First, it generally can be awkward to find adult friends. When you bring that into a business setting, it can be even more uncomfortable to find an adult friend that you trust to talk you through major decisions, tell you things you don’t want to hear, and be a confidant — but not be your spouse or best friend. This can be a major hurdle to overcome when setting up the relationship and, at times, a strange line to draw in the sand.
Secondly, the relationship takes guts from both parties. Trust is a major portion of the relationship and we typically put up a wall so as to not look like we don’t know what we are doing in front of others. Mentees have to take down that wall to receive the message. Mentors need the courage to give tough feedback or criticism a person may need. The mentor may also be on the receiving end of anger if the mentee doesn’t agree with the feedback. It can be an emotionally draining experience, especially if both parties are invested in the relationship.
On the flip side, it can be a very special relationship if it is done right and you get through the uncomfortable parts. Many relationships don’t make it that far because topics are often kept at a safe, surface level. Remember what I said about being uncomfortable to get to a good place? If you overcome that uncomfortableness in the relationship, you will be off and running into a purposeful mentorship that is rewarding for both parties.
How do I sign up?
Look around you: who do you admire or look up to? Who could you make a difference for by giving them your sage wisdom? Whose values align with your own? Who do you aspire to be like? Who would you love to help get to the next level of their career?
Whether you are looking to find a mentor for yourself or mentor others, ask yourself these questions first. After that, it’s a phone call, email or common introduction. Flattery will get you everywhere, they say, so who wouldn’t love to receive a call asking for advice from an inexperienced professional looking to get ahead?
Or if you are looking for a mentee, what person in their right mind would turn down an offer of help from someone like you? Professional organizations or college programs may also be a link to match people up for mentorships, which can be a great place to start. And if all of these things make you feel uncomfortable, push past it, get used to the feeling and get ready to be a part of something special on the other side.