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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 13, 2011 • Issue 11:06:01

Oh, what the right mentor could do for you

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

Growing a business can be a daunting and harrowing experience - one that requires courage, stamina, resourcefulness and mental toughness. Many new business owners have the requisite qualities, but they are so eager to launch their new ventures they overlook the importance of selecting a support network of advisers - including accountants, lawyers, consultants and marketing experts - to help navigate the waters of today's competitive business environment.

One of the best ways to ensure your business will thrive is to work with a good mentor. The right mentor brings industry expertise, a network of colleagues and resources to assist in overcoming pitfalls and achieving personal goals, as well as knowledge and experience on how to handle particular situations. The right mentor can save you time, money, frustration and embarrassment.

What exactly is a mentor? According to Wikipedia, a mentor is "a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person." The term "mentor" derives from a famous teacher of that name in Greek mythology. Mentoring relationships have flourished in the United States since the early 1970s. The student of a mentor is called a protégé.

Mentoring involves a personal relationship in which a seasoned professional helps develop a less experienced person. The objective is for the accomplished person to convey to the up-and-comer the knowledge and support needed for professional growth and development. The relationship is confidential, and the parties work closely together, usually face-to-face, over an extended period.

Characteristics of a strong mentor

Selecting the right mentor for you is a process that deserves your full attention. Make sure you choose a person you feel comfortable with and who has exhibited expertise in his or her field.

What are the characteristics of a good mentor? A mentor exhibits:

  • Knowledge: The mentor you select should be more knowledgeable and experienced than you are, regardless of age, in order to share a broad base of expertise.

  • Quality: Your mentor should be a person you respect and admire and who demonstrates the ethics and integrity you want to emulate in your life.

  • Comparable goals: Seek a mentor who has successfully set and met goals similar to yours. This can help you set and achieve your own goals, identify pitfalls and overcome roadblocks.

  • Accessibility: Your mentor should be accessible to you on a regular basis. It will serve no purpose to have a mentor you cannot reach or meet with when necessary.

  • Flexibility: You need a mentor who is flexible and can adapt to the way you want your career to progress and adjust to the inevitable changes that will come along.

  • Compassion: Select a mentor who cares about you personally and professionally, who can help pick you up when you fall and who celebrates with you when you reach important milestones.

  • Optimism: Choose a mentor who looks at life with a positive attitude. Your mentor's attitude can help you remain positive even when things are not going exactly as planned and you have to adjust your goals or direction. As Henry Ford so aptly put it, "Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right."

  • Focus: A good mentor can focus on you and what you aspire to achieve, as well as help you focus on what's most important. A mentor can help you prioritize your time, efforts, and resources and guide you in staying on the path to success.

  • Vision: The mentor you select must believe in your potential and be able to visualize your success. If someone has doubts about your prospects, he or she may be unwilling to devote the time and energy necessary to help you achieve your mission. Without a total commitment, the mentor and prot‚g‚ relationship will not result in a win-win situation.

  • Candor: A mentor-protégé relationship works best when there is openness, honesty and forthrightness on both sides. If you are not able to share experiences with your mentor that you may be unwilling to share with other colleagues, your mentor cannot help you overcome obstacles.

Tips for mentor selection

Creating a relationship with someone you trust to help you meet your goals can be a challenge. Here are some tips on how you can locate and develop a mentor.

  • Make a list of your goals and the outcomes you desire from a mentoring relationship.

  • Brainstorm a list of prospective mentors, and conduct research about each prospect. This list can include your boss, your boss's boss, another business person, or someone you admire or respect from within or outside your industry.

  • Identify the top prospects you think align with your goals and needs, contact them in writing requesting a meeting and make a follow-up call to set up an appointment.

  • If possible, set the meeting in a casual setting away from the office in a location such as a restaurant (you pick up the tab, of course).

  • Prepare a list of questions to guide the interview, including some questions about a specific situation you are facing.

  • Discuss your prospect's history, goals and current situation. State your goals, ask specific questions and seek advice on a situation you identify.

  • If you are comfortable with this first meeting, consider asking your prospective mentor to set up further meetings to continue your discussions.

  • Send a thank-you letter or note following the meeting.

  • Follow up on the suggestions you receive in the initial meeting, and evaluate the results.

  • If you are satisfied with both the suggestions and results, call your prospective mentor to discuss the results of the actions you've taken, and request a second appointment.

  • Suggest that you establish a mentoring relationship, and spell out your goals, expectations and commitment desired. Clarify this commitment in writing, understanding that the relationship will continue as long as it is beneficial for both parties.

Remember, neither the mentor nor the protégé is locked in to a long-term arrangement. The times, terms, areas of communication, etc., can and will change over time as the needs of both parties change.

Mentoring versus coaching

Is there a difference between a mentor and a coach? Yes!

In my last article, "Coach your way to a stronger organization," The Green Sheet, April 11, 2011, issue 11:04:01, I identified coaching as "a method of personal development or human resource development ... an excellent way to attain a certain work behavior that will improve leadership, employee accountability, teamwork, sales communication, goal setting, strategic planning and more."

A coach has an established agenda directed at reinforcing or changing specific skills, behaviors or performance; mentoring focuses on developing the person by providing support for the individual's growth and maturity as well as personal career development.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "My chief want in life is someone who shall make me do what I can." Will a mentor help you do what you can? Yes, and hopefully these tips will help you establish a successful, satisfying long-term relationship with a mentor who can help you be the best you can possibly be. end of article

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. Email her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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