Finding a mentor can be a daunting task – where do you begin and how do you find the right person? I think there are two main areas to focus on and one is not about the mentor!

Think about yourself

Think about yourself and what you need. To get the best from a mentoring partnership you need to be really clear about what you want to focus on. Mentoring is not just a nice chat over a cup of coffee about your general situation or the life story of your mentor! It is a professional partnership. You may want some specific support or guidance on something that is new to you, that is proving a bit of a challenge or something you want to achieve. This could include topics such as: taking on a new project or piece of work; finding new ways to market or grow your business; being more confident in meetings; improving your public speaking skills (and confidence!); exploring a career change or your next career move; and many more.

Tip: Write down the specific overall goal or objective you want to take to mentoring.

You may find it helpful to do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Doing a SWOT analysis can help you identify what you want to focus on in the mentoring meetings.

  • Strengths are what you want to develop, share with others, bring up to date or find ways of demonstrating it in your role.
  • Weakness can be things you want to learn, develop or improve. Many people prefer to use the term ‘development need’.
  • Opportunities are about how to create, find, discover and make the best of opportunities that relate to your goal or objective.
  • You can also spend time exploring threats and how to identify and prepare for them or minimise the risk of them completely de-railing you and your goal.

Tip: Divide an A4 piece of paper into quadrants to do your SWOT analysis.

For you to move towards achieving your goal you will need to do some work – your mentor is not going to achieve it for you. You can expect to take on activities as a result of the mentoring meetings.

For all stages of finding a mentor, including the SWOT analysis, you need to give yourself time so that ideas and thoughts can emerge. You could set aside a specific amount of time and give yourself time to reflect over a couple of days before going back to the list to refine and add to it.

Think about your mentor

Now it is time to think about your mentor and who it could be.   You might already have an idea of names of people to ask if so, that is great, go ahead and ask them (see more about my suggestions about how to do this below).

If you are not sure who your mentor could be, begin by thinking about the people you admire, respect or find motivational. Write down their names and the specific personal and professional qualities you admire. This can help you be clear about the type of person you could work well with. It is important that you and your mentor have good rapport – by identifying qualities you admire in others helps you to find someone you get on well with. Remember this person is NOT going to be your mentor, you are in effect writing a job description or person specification about the type of person who would work well with. They could be a family member, a friend, someone at work, someone in your personal life (e.g. in the sport or social club to which you belong), someone from your past (school, previous job), equally it can be someone in the public eye (past or present), names sometimes suggested include Michelle Obama, Richard Branson, Stephen Hawking, Nelson Mandela, Malala, someone who has achieved a lot in your favourite sport, or someone at the top of their game in a specific field of work. You could also consider characters from books and films such as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings or Yoda from Star Wars films. Yoda: “No more training do you require. Already know you, that which you need.”

By identifying the personal and professional qualities of people you admire or respect will give you a list of things to look for in possible mentors.

Tip: You may have a long list of qualities – so be strict with yourself and divide it into a maximum of 8 ‘must haves’, and the rest can be ‘nice to haves’.

You could ask for help finding a mentor from people you know. The list of qualities you have can be shared with people you trust as it will give them a clear idea of the type of person you are looking for.   Then focus on finding some possible real mentors.

  • Think about people you know in all areas of your life, family, friends, work, social etc and if any of them meet your criteria. Then think about the people they may know – it is not just about your immediate network, tap into the networks of other people.
  • Think about people you used to work with as well as new people who have joined your team/company and then think about who they may know.
  • Research people who you know have done some good work in the area you want to focus on.
  • Consider who have you met in meetings or at events, who has won awards, written articles in the trade press, written books, given presentations at conferences etc.

Tip: It may be good to compile a short list of up to 3 possible mentors to approach.

Making first contact works well when you can have a personal introduction from someone else. If someone you know does do a personal introduction do make sure you follow up promptly with the mentor. However, if you have to make the initial contact, consider sending a short introductory email.   Give some brief information about yourself, what you admire about them or their work and that you would like to meet them to find out more. You may or may not want to say that you are looking for a mentor at this stage.

Tip: You may have more options if you consider mentoring via telephone or Skype. If you do meet in person it is usual for the mentee to travel the mentor’s location.

When you first meet a possible mentor you can see if they meet enough of the qualities on your ‘must haves’ list. If they do you can ask them to be your mentor.

Agreeing the Ground Rules

When you have decided who you are going to ask to be your mentor you need to discuss and agree with them how the partnership will work. This includes:

  1. The frequency and duration of the meetings as well as the duration of the mentoring partnership. These details may depend on the urgency of your goal/s. If there is no deadline maybe meeting for one hour a month for 6 months would be a starting point. Be prepared to negotiate and be flexible by having meetings at lunchtime, at the end or start of the day, or meeting for 30 mins twice a month.
  2. Your overall goal for mentoring. If you have done a SWOT analysis you could share that too. The mentor needs to know as much as possible about you and your goals in order to help you develop.
  3. What you both understand by the term ‘mentoring’.
  4. What you are looking for from your mentor. Ask for challenge and stretch if that is what you want. Tell them if you want to know their story, or if you want them to share expertise and ideas as well as to critique your ideas.
  5. Asking what they want from you and what they can give and share with you.
  6. Agreeing what is confidential and what is not as well as discussing any conflicts of interest. Confidentiality is key to a successful mentoring partnership.
  7. Cost. Many mentoring partnerships do not incur a cost. This is usually because both mentor and mentee can see they will benefit by being in a mentoring partnership. Therefore discuss the benefits you both expect to gain.
  8. Agreeing boundaries – what is appropriate to discuss within the mentoring meetings, and what is not.
  9. Agreeing how and when you will give feedback to each other. Tip: Ask each other: What is/is not working for you? What could I do differently/more of/less of?

Then it is up to both of you to make it work based on what you have agreed. As the mentee you need to be focused, prepared and willing to take action as a result of what you agree in the meetings to take you towards your goal. Good luck!

Once you have found the right person you can read the Trusted Coach Directory blog Seven tips for a successful mentoring relationship by Beverly Landais August 2017.

 

Jane Saunders has been coaching Executives since 2004 and says the best bit about coaching for her is when people realise they actually options and there is a way forwards.  She is an experienced leadership trainer and delivers training to Mentors and Mentees and finds it interesting (!) that many sponsors want to offer training to Mentors but not to Mentees.