“What should I look for in a mentor?”
I’ve been asked a number of times lately by entrepreneurs, and I think the best way to answer this is to describe what I myself look for in a mentor. I have had three mentors in my life and even now I find myself referring to one of my mentors from time to time. So it is an important question and I would like to share some of my thoughts with you all.
In my case, two of my mentors were previous chairs that I reported to, that I have continued a relationship with well beyond the period that I reported to them. However, one of them I have never worked for or reported to. These mentors include one lady in Switzerland, one gentleman in Sydney and one gentleman in Perth.
In a mentor, I look for someone who can share his or her experience, but also who can be open to learning from my experience, making it a two-way, win-win relationship. I want them to help me find a way forward when I have challenges. I want them to challenge my thinking. I want them to share their stories and experiences. I don’t necessarily need them to have all the answers; however, they can help me come up with the right questions to ask so that I can find the right answers.
Sometimes you need to have a conversation with someone to bounce problems around and it can’t always be done with your board of directors or your management team. Having an experienced, external colleague that you can discuss things with can be really important.
In some respects it’s all about communication and being available to have deep and far-reaching discussions. It can be a balancing act; some conversations will reveal brutal truths and possibly even squash hope! But they will be grounded in a path forward that balances risk and opportunity.
It can be a balancing act; some conversations will reveal brutal truths and possibly even squash hope!
From time to time I need someone to tell me, ‘Ian that’s one step too far – perhaps take a step back and plan to progress slowly.’ Sometimes I need someone to pull me up and say we need more evidence, we need more facts, before we can make a decision. In a mentor, I need someone to help me navigate, but I don’t need them to be the driver. It’s not about getting it right every time; it is about slowing down, checking everything is ready and then accelerating.