A remarkable number of professionals have been turning to executive coaches as a way to help them realize better performance and bolster their careers. In fact, according to marketing firm IBISWorld, back at the close of 2014, executive coaching had become a $1 Billion growth industry in the United States, alone. Not to be outdone, at that time, even I joined the fray and expanded my consultancy’s scope of services to include executive coaching — a model wherein the consultancy’s advisory services were tailored for individual professional development, in additional to the traditional business consulting that it had been offering for years. By 2019, the executive-coaching space had topped more than $15 billion. Today, nearly a year after closing that consultancy, executive coaching is still a part of my professional makeup.
When I sat down to write a separate touchpoint on effective executive coaching, I came to an important realization: we all can benefit from some form of mentorship, particularly when we are serious about bettering ourselves.
The American poet Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” And that is truly the most authentic description of what mentors do. Mentors do not just aspire to inform; they make efforts to bring out the best within us. Whether they come to us from the altars of our synagogues or from the corner offices of our industries, and whether they have refined their acumen in classrooms, on fields of play, or over operating tables, mentors provide a wealth of experience and applied knowledge that can be used to shape our understanding of situations. They serve as sounding boards for our ideas and fixed points to whom we can be accountable. And unlike family members, friends, co-workers or current bosses, mentors provide the type of objective perspective that we often need to hear, whether in the form of affirmation or scrutiny, in order to propel ourselves forward.
If you do not already have a mentor — and statistically speaking, you probably don’t — then here are just five tips for identifying a mentor and ensuring that the relationship is a successful one:
1. Seek a mentor outside of your network.
• Our personal and professional networks tend to be pretty limited. Therefore, use people in your existing network to gain introductions to new people .
• Do not be afraid to make cold calls. Sometimes, the most important relationships you will ever build are the ones that happen with total strangers.
• Be open-minded. We tend to get very comfortable with what we know, but the truth is, relying too heavily on points of view too similar to our own, or on perspectives from those likely to agree with us, is always problematic in the end.
2. Don’t go for a know-it-all.
• No one person will ever have a lock on all of the wisdom you could utilize. Try to identify accomplished people in a variety of disciplines, and create a comprehensive network of mentors. Just think of it as your own customized support group.
3. Develop an understanding of your goals and expectations.
• It is always useful to periodically conduct a self-assessment or SWOT analysis of your life, assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, in order to identify areas in your personal and/or professional life that need improvement.
• There needs to be a clear direction for you and the mentor. Without a set of tangible goals to attain, along with a time frame for doing so, there may be no way to measure the ROI on time, effort, or money dispensed in this relationship.
4. Allocate the appropriate amount of time to the relationship.
• As the mentee, you should know that it is your responsibility to keep up the relationship, as well as to determine the appropriate frequency of meetings, so as to effectively work toward the stated goals, while not overly burdening anyone’s schedule.
• Time matters. You and your mentor must keep in mind that too many cancellations or rescheduled meetings on anyone’s part look very unprofessional. And even a single brush-offs is, well, downright disrespectful and virtually unforgivable.
• Keep your meetings structured and concise for the most optimal use of time. Having a solid meeting agenda could be helpful.
5. Make sure that your mentor has the right mindset and approach.
• Your mentor must be mentee-driven and focused on the approach meant to help you achieve the right results. Even as circumstances might change, or as you might resist the effort, your mentor should always keep his eyes on your personal improvement.
• Your mentor must be a good listener.
• Sober and honest feedback is always important from your mentor. He cannot be afraid to provide you with constructive criticism.
• You and your mentor should always make an effort to promote positive momentum towards your goals. End each meeting with a Plan of Action, one to which you, as the mentee, should commit to executing and reporting back the results to your mentor.
• Your mentor should have very little tolerance for your excuses. If you are not making progress, then he should tell you, and suspend the mentorship.
Of course, there is no guarantees that having a mentor will change your life, but as you can see from these tips, a successful mentorship can expose you the type of invaluable thought leadership that you can use for the rest of our lives. What’s more, the right mentorship could easily put you in position to take advantage for a host of new opportunities. So get ready to grow.
GaryHarrell.net is the home of all things literary from author Gary Harrell.