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Wherever you are in your career, and whatever you’ve achieved, the help and guidance of many other people probably contributed to your success. If you’ve been lucky enough to have had a mentor at some point in your career, you’re especially aware of this fact. It’s likely that someone’s been your sounding board for new ideas, your cheerleader when you’re struggling, your advocate for that promotion, and your inspiration for a new way of thinking.
Because January is National Mentoring Month, I’d like to point out the benefits of having a mentor, which I’ve experienced firsthand. And those benefits aren’t purely anecdotal—research has shown that mentors have significant positive effects on the growth of entrepreneurs.
The mentors I’ve had have undoubtedly played a crucial role in my professional development, and they still do. They’ve helped me make better decisions, mainly because I can ask them hard questions and know that I’m getting honest feedback that’s based on experience. My mentors have challenged my thinking, and they’ve also served as great professional contacts, introducing me to others who could help me and opening up business opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise found.
Today, I’m a mentor for several young entrepreneurs and part of a peer group of senior leaders. We meet to share our experiences and mentor each other because we each understand that growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It requires deliberate and purposeful engagement with others who know how to achieve success (and know how to fail), because they’ve succeeded and failed themselves over and over again.
My colleagues and I aren’t alone in that understanding. Most successful people, regardless of what industry they’re in, how old they are, or where they came from, recognize the impact of those who were willing to teach them and believe in them. Below, four leaders share a bit about the roles mentors have played in their own success and offer tips for making the most of mentorship.
1. Eric Rozenberg, President and CEO, Event Business Formula
Eric was fortunate enough to have had several mentors whom he could lean on at critical moments throughout his life. “We never make it alone, and I was fortunate to be able to count on the mentorship of amazing individuals,” he explains. “They also guide me and support me at critical moments of my life.”
The support he’s received from those individuals has inspired him to pay it forward, and he now serves as a mentor for several other professionals in the meetings and events industry, as well as students. As a mentor, he focuses on sharing experiences rather than answering “What should I do?” types of questions.
Eric understands that many young people may worry that they don’t have anything to offer to would-be mentors, but they needn’t. “True mentors expect nothing from you and should not be trying to take advantage of you,” he says. If someone shows a willingness to help you, don’t feel as though you need to compensate them. Simply respect their time—such as by preparing and sending questions in advance—and show your appreciation. Above all, if you want someone else’s time, you have to ask. And ask before it’s too late.
2. Chris Lo Verde, Founder and CEO, Global Ecom Partners
Chris is adamant that he would not be where he is today without the support of his mentors. “Starting my own business at 20 years old left me very vulnerable to making unexperienced business decisions,” he says. “It is very easy to only see the dollar signs and positives in a deal. It’s the unexpected variables that my mentors would bring to light.”
Like Eric, he says that the best way to get help from someone is to ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate your appreciation for that person’s time. “If a simple Google search can solve your problem, then try to solve it yourself. Generally, mentors enjoy helping solve complex problems and seeing the positive results.” Successful people are highly protective of their time because they know how valuable it is.
Chris advises thinking about the details of the questions you might have for a potential mentor and trying to anticipate the questions he or she might have in response. That way, you can put that person in the best position to help you. He’s also an advocate for mentoring others to help them avoid the mistakes you’ve made. That’s why he joined a program that assigns mentors to college students to help them get started in their careers.
3. Steve Robertson, CEO, Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs
Like others on this list, Steve has had many mentors over the course of his life and career. He credits two people from his high school years, one a math teacher and the other a tennis coach, with changing the way he looks at challenges and engages with the world. The most impactful mentor he’s had, however, helped him understand networking while connecting him with people around the world. “That skill is the skill that I value the most,” he says. “He taught me how to connect and to network without there being a hook. It wasn’t for the sake of getting something; it was for the sake of connecting and growing.”
When you think of a mentor, a gray-haired person with boundless life experience may come to mind. While some mentors may fit that image, Steve says that if you’re searching for guidance, you shouldn’t focus on the age of a potential mentor or assume anything about his or her experience.
For instance, Steve has mentored people younger and older than himself and been mentored by them in turn. “Gen Z are mentoring us, teaching us about all sorts of things. As an older person, being a mentor keeps you relevant,” he observes. The bottom line: Look for people who inspire you, regardless of their age or socioeconomic status. And don’t limit yourself to just one mentor throughout your career. You’ll find that potential mentors are all around you.
4. Chris Carosella, CEO, Beta Gamma Sigma
Chris says that her first mentor saw something in her that maybe she didn’t recognize in herself at the time. That mentor challenged Chris to step outside of her comfort zone to learn necessary professional skills and helped her navigate the challenges of her first real job. Chris notes, “And it was working—I was promoted twice during the time of our mentoring. There was a downside, however. I started to feel like she was taking credit for my work, as if I couldn’t have done it without her. I found out later that my colleagues thought of me as my mentor’s ‘Mini-Me,’ and I started to feel smothered.”
While Chris recommends not walking away when a mentor relationship becomes difficult, she says making sure your expectations and goals are aligned is key. She eventually took a new job and left that mentor relationship behind. Chris says the best mentor she’s ever had was one of her colleagues at GE. She described him as a great sounding board for her, adding that he knew how to ask the right probing questions to push her forward.
Chris has been fortunate to build strong mentor relationships throughout her career and has since served as an advisor, guide, and role model for countless colleagues and students as well. The latter is especially important to her personally: “When I worked at GE, I really wanted to find a woman in management who could mentor me, but back then, no such person existed there. Because of that, it’s important for me to be that mentor for other young women.” If you’re seeking a mentor, she recommends looking for people who seem sincerely interested in your work. Then, if you are able to make a connection, don’t take your mentor for granted.
A mentor can help guide your professional growth in tremendous ways, but finding one doesn’t happen by accident. In order to make the most out of a mentor relationship, you must be upfront about your intentions and deliberate in your approach. And pay it forward, mentoring others when you can. The payoff is well worth the effort.
January 27, 2019 at 07:07AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs