How do you get a mentor in the Age of Entrepreneurship?
The way we work is profoundly changing and it’s affecting everyone. There's a lot that is exciting in this new Age of Entrepreneurship -- an era in which both company and employee longevity, are shrinking and everyone wants to be his own boss. But what will be harder or worse because of it?
There are some things we often give up as entrepreneurs, such as healthcare plans and a corporate safety net. But there is one thing in particular that we need to maintain: Mentoring, and by extension, coaching.
I owe much of my personal and professional success to mentors. And almost all highly accomplished people cite mentoring as a key contributor to their success. Consider how Steve Jobs, Ben Horowitz, and the guys from Google have touted the influence mentor extraordinaire Bill Campbell had on them and their companies. Additionally, a wide body of research demonstrates that when looking at career mentoring in terms of objective career success, better mentoring resulted in greater compensation, greater salary growth, and more promotions. It also increases employee engagement and retention.
Unfortunately obtaining a strong mentoring experience is elusive for most of us; it’s difficult to find the right mentor and make the most of mentoring relationships. When looking for advice, people most often go to the most convenient sources, but not necessarily the right ones. They haven’t developed their own networks, so they ask for advice from whoever is right in front of them. Perhaps it’s their boss, or colleagues at their company. Often it’s their spouses, parents, or friends.
Is this really the best way? Friends are great supporters, but do they really know how you can best leverage your skill set to advance in your changing industry -- an industry that is different from theirs? Your mother might know you best and be your biggest fan, but does she really know how much you are worth in the marketplace?
And mentors at work? The way mentoring is approached inside companies is somewhat misguided. Too often, mentoring takes place too infrequently, only once or twice a year, and at specified times, such as during a performance review. Most people don’t feel receptive and open at a time when economics are at stake. It’s best to discuss development and future goals in a different zone, when people are thinking about the future as opposed to being judged for the past.
Everywhere I go, every company I visit, and every group to which I speak, I ask how many people have had significant coaching, and most hands go up. And then I ask if they think that corporate America does mentoring well, and you know how many hands go up? Generally, zero.
I can’t fault companies for doing a bad job of this. With reduced employee tenure and company longevity, there’s no longer an opportunity to receive years of coaching from one boss. Now, a shift away from internal coaching is going to be exacerbated, as middle management has been decimated, and as location will matter less, as more people work remotely and become more entrepreneurial (either starting their own companies or becoming freelancers). Also, mentoring seldom exists at under-resourced, fast-paced startups.
So where do you find good mentors? Look for the best in your field. Who does your current job -- or the job you want -- well? Read industry publications, websites, and blogs to identify the best people in your field. Search Google. Find them on LinkedIn. Connect with them on a mentoring matching service. What is their magic? Create a database of who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and what you can learn from them.
In an interconnected world, it doesn’t benefit anyone to be shy about reaching out. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from the best people. People love to mentor. Ask successful people what they think has made them successful. Additionally, ask them pointed questions that can help you advance. Often times people want to be nice, so they tread carefully, but a good mentor will tell you what gaps you might have and what else you should be thinking about. You can spark that conversation by asking, “What am I missing?”
While some mentors are advisors someone can go to for guidance at particular but undefined times, there are benefits to a formal mentoring relationship. In these, it’s imperative to have a commitment on both sides. Parameters are important. The relationship should be time bound (a few months or a year, with regular and defined check-in points.) While the mentor is expected to offer insight and advice, but that does not mean the protégé must always follow it. A protégé has much to gain by asking, “How did you get to that insight? Tell me the story that led to this thinking.” That can help determine whether or not this is something to consider incorporating.
Overall, since mentors at work went the way of the gold watch, the pension plan, and the mainframe computer, the onus is on the individual to pursue these kinds of beneficial relationships. In the future, I believe mentoring will not develop only in the office, but will actually be of greater benefit than ever before as it will come from a network culled from a variety of areas. With modern mentoring, you gain access to the best and brightest minds that have the most experience specifically relevant to you and your dreams. This external board of advisers can offer insight, direction, and introductions. These mentors can create a portfolio of advice and make a tremendous impact on your career and your life.
It’s an upgrade everyone can enjoy.