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"A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could." Zig Ziglar

While traditionally defined as a "wise and trusted counsel," a business mentor is much more. It is someone who believes you can. It is someone who, through his or her support, guidance, and ready ear, empowers you to exceed your current limitations and realize your untapped potential. Now...all you have to do now is find someone who fits the bill.

What Do You Need to Learn?

Good leaders realize they don't know it all; great leaders find people who can help them fill the gaps. Bill Gates, for example, credits mentor Warren Buffet with helping him learn to think long-term, deal with tough situations, and develop the ability to articulate complex ideas in simple ways.

As Ken Perlman of Kotter International writes:

We learn a great deal about management principles and practices in school. still more often learned outside of school. The value of a mentor who can help cultivate leadership skills one-on-one in real-time, reduces the anxiety in taking big steps, and focus leaders on achieving their goals - is huge.

And, when you have strong mentors to whom you can turn, you accelerate your learning curve and equip yourself with the tools for greater success.

Build a Relationship Before You Encounter Challenges

Sir Richard Branson, a vocal proponent of mentorship, advises, "It is rarely a good idea to make a hard and formal request for mentoring upfront, like 'Will you be my mentor?' Such relationships blossom on their own."

At the same time, if you don't have anyone to fill this role for you, it's beneficial to "force germinate" and get that relationship growing more expeditiously. As Vistage's "Get a Life Guide for CEOs" puts it so aptly, "If you don't have a mentor, but run into a jam and need one, it's often impossible to make one materialize when and where you need him or her most."

Mining for Mentors

How do you find a strong mentor and cultivate an effective relationship?

Clarify What You Want To Achieve.

Before you launch into a search for a business mentor, take the time to ask yourself about your goals and aspirations. Only then will you be able to identify the type of person who can help you achieve them.

Also consider what you bring to the relationship. How can you add value for your mentor? The best pairings are mutually beneficial; just as Gates learned from Buffet, Buffet was empowered by Gates' philanthropic endeavors.

Entrepreneur and author Glenn Llopis advises, "Think of ways you can add-value to the relationship beyond sharing the success stories you have created from their goodwill. Buy them a book, send them a link to an article, connect them with a friend or someone that can add value to their goals." Reciprocal relationships yield far greater returns.

Comb Your Network.

Forbes' contributor Kathy Caprino suggests that you "[f]ind your mentors among the people you know who are 10 steps ahead of you in your field, role, or industry, doing what you want to, in the way you want to." Take a critical look at your professional and community networks:

  • Do you know any associates or former colleagues who have similar values and beliefs?
  • Do any have entrepreneurial pasts from which you can learn?
  • Is there anyone in your worship congregation who has experience and insight that could be of value?
  • Among your LinkedIn connections, is there someone who can offer support and guidance?
  • Are there local community and business leaders who can help fill gaps in your leadership?

Put Yourself Out There.

It's unlikely a mentor will walk into your office and start giving you pearls of wisdom. If you don't know anyone in your current network that meets your needs, go out and find him or her. Where? Industry events. Peer groups. Seminars. Trade organizations. Conferences. Community groups.

You've identified the type of person who can help you - now ask, where is s/he? And how can you cultivate a relationship? Branson suggests starting with coffee. "Ask him to lunch, to coffee, or simply ask for 30 minutes of her time to chat."

Be prepared to make the most of this time: know what you want to ask, what you want to relay to this person, and how you will ask for their feedback. It's also not a bad idea to make the case for you. Why should they spend time listening to you?

Mentor Yourself

If you do not have a mentor (yet!), don't discount the value of your own advice. According to the guide, "[i]n the absence of anyone else to confide in, the best person to make your concerns top priority is looking back at you when you look in the mirror." Grab a piece of paper and pen, computer, tablet, or voice recorder and describe your challenges or problems. This is not only cathartic - it can help you uncover solutions that you didn't see before.

How far you can go with the help of someone who believes you can? Find a mentor - and find your answer.


Larry Hart

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