Mentoring is becoming an increasingly popular tool for leadership development in the world of business. One reason for this is the general acceptance that professional development is a continuous activity, including at senior levels. Another reason is the evolving nature of executive roles, which sees them dealing with more complexities and environmental changes than ever before. In addition, there is also an increasing trend to move towards less hierarchical organisational structures, which results in more fluidity within roles and teams, and a greater numbers of individuals moving to leadership roles.
Mentoring is also a strategic tool that when used well can have great outcomes for any organisation. It can increase employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment. It can also support wider equality, diversity and inclusion efforts by shaping organisational culture and enabling members of distinct groups to work together thus fostering positive gender, race and generational relationships amongst others.
In-house mentoring is used to help employees learn and grow in their career development paths, to build confidence and to simplify increased responsibilities. Mentoring pairs the mentee with a mentor in the organisation, whether this is in the same office or in a completely different country, and the relationships can last from six months to a year.
Where your organisation is able to provide a mentoring programme for you, you should take advantage of it and learn as much as you can. But what happens when you are not willing or able to access a company’s in-house mentoring programme? What if you are an entrepreneur, unemployed looking to start a career or if you have a job but would like to quit and start something completely different? Who do you turn to then?
Finding your ideal mentor(s)
By ideal mentor I don’t mean a rich and successful, globally known, celebrity like Tonny Robbins or Barbara Corcoran but rather, a person who is either in the same business field as you, at the same level as you (but perhaps with many more years’ experience) or at the next level you aspire to get to.
When you are eager to learn from others, the number of mentors you can or want to have really depends on you. There are different approaches to mentoring you can take advantage of, as long as you are willing to be proactive and take responsibility for organising and maintaining such professional relationships. If you are resourceful and want to be able to pick who you work with, then here are different ways you can go about it:
1-2-1 Mentoring. The classic teacher-student arrangement is suitable for those who have a clear role model and specific results they are looking to emulate. This usually a top-down approach to mentorship, with knowledge being passed down from mentor to mentee. Though some people in the capacity of mentors know that everyone has something to teach and are open to a less structured approach. Through this relationship, the mentee looks to develop the thinking, skills and habits of his/her mentor in order to test out new ideas in his/her own business/leadership practice and life.
1-2-1 mentoring is typically a more personal and formal relationship than other types of mentoring in that the mentor has been explicitly engaged for the purpose of offering guidance to the mentee. The meeting sessions, whether face to face or over the phone, will have a regular schedule and the mentee usually expects detailed guidance on specific issues.
If you are hoping to take part in a 1-2-1 mentoring programme as a mentee, then you need to remember that mentors (and it doesn’t matter who you have identified as your preferred choice) are busy people at work and in their personal lives. As a mentee, you’d probably like to have as much contact as possible but to avoid self-sabotage, make sure you have established some parameters in the relationship and that you are clear about how often it is OK to reach out, beyond your agreed meeting times.
TOP TIP: Make a list of questions you’d like to ask before you meet your mentor. Then think about these: 1- can I find the answer to any of these questions on the internet, in a book or though a colleague? If so, write it off your list. 2- Do any of the questions have a common theme? Is there an underlying concept I’m trying to get to that can be asked about differently? Is there anyway in which I can merge 3 questions into 1 bigger picture question?
Group mentoring. This approach works best for people who are looking to share best practice in a network of like-minded, supportive leaders. In this system, all mentors are also mentees, as information, skills and habits are shared to inspire and learn from one another. You may be the one to start the hunt for your own tribe of mentors, or you may have been lucky enough to have been approached by someone building their tribe.
Group mentoring usually includes leaders from a range of different backgrounds at a variety of stages in their developmental journey. Some may not even have started their business yet, other may be in their first, third or tenth year of their careers. The point is that they all have a common interest in being part of a community of support and advice as they grow. This mentoring style tends to work best when you can identify people in your life (both personal and professional) whose opinion you value and whose advice you trust. Having at least one person who knows you well and can call out your BS when needed can also be a great asset.
Make a list of people you know right now whom you consider successful and who are at different stages in their path. This might include good friends, work colleagues, that parent in your child’s school you got talking to once whose business seems really interesting and that person on LinkedIn who sent you a connect request and is in a top role in some big organisation in the opposite end of the world. Write all the names down. Then approach them all individually to present your idea to create a mentoring group.
TOP TIP: Getting more than three people together at a time across countries or timezones can be tricky. You might decide to select those in your city to meet monthly for an activity that everyone enjoys (brunch, spa, hicking, etc) and which people might be more likely to stick to as part of their well-being routine. The secret is never to cancel, even if it’s just two two of you at times.
Multi-mentors mentoring. In this approach, the mentee looks for experts in different fields (finance, health, leadership, relationship building) and treats each as a mentor.
I got this idea from Tim Ferriss, who in a recent podcast explained how he went about building mentoring relationships with top influencers. Of course we are not Tim Ferriss and we probably don’t know any influencers. He made a point to note that he had only been able to approach these influencers in the first place because he had put himself in a position, through volunteer work at conferences years ago, in which he had made some initial brief contact with the top speakers. This brief contact then built up as he saw the same speakers/influencers at other events and was able to volunteer to do things for them. He built his name in this way until the influencers realised that he was serious about his work and that he was not a time waster. Later on, when Tim prepared to propose a mentoring relationship, he didn’t do it in the conventional way, knowing those big guys would be really busy. How did he go about it? He asked them if it would be OK to email them a question, maybe once a year, about an area of their expertise BUT ONLY if he had not been able to find an answer to it by any other means. He told them that in the email, he would outline where he had searched and what he had tried before finally resorting to emailing them.
By framing his approach for mentoring in this way, Tim Ferriss let his mentors-to-be know that he didn’t mean to waste their time with pointless questions. He also made a point to only reach out when truly stuck, which may happen about once a year for that particular filed of expertise. With such careful and respectful approach, he hoped that mentors would be more likely to take the time to direct him to the tools he was after, or to share information with him if they had it.
TOP TIP: If you choose to contact people with much more experience or insight than you currently have, make sure to let them know in your email that you are aware of how busy they are and that you understand if they don’t get back to you. This will show your prospective mentors that you respect them. It will also almost surely guarantee you a polite reply.
Tim Ferriss’s approach is just one of many possible ones you can take to securing multiple mentors.You probably already have a network of people in your personal or professional life which you can use to obtain the guidance you need by building positive, closer relationships with them, without it becoming the full-time commitment that a 1-2-1 mentoring programme would be. And if you do know a top influencer, then why not try Tim’s approach too?
Which of the three mentoring approaches suits you best? What will be your first step towards getting started with a mentor(s)? I’d love to hear your ideas! Good luck!