7-Qualities to look for in a great mentoring relationship.

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January is national Mentoring Month. That probably means you have been inundated with offers from mentors and coaches all offering to take you and your business to the ‘next level’.

It begs the question – what should you be looking for in a mentor? I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts from what I have learned from 10 years of mentoring several hundred professionals and also being mentored myself.

My first mentoring experience
I vividly remember my own first experience of working with a mentor. It says a lot about my ignorance (and the lack of investment in ‘talent’ in the media sales industry where I worked for 20 years) that I was 40 when this life-changing event occurred.

You see, I’d been cruising. I’d done well in various leadership roles, smashed my targets and was generally perceived (and thought of myself) as a high performer. I’d had enough of the media industry and was in the final round of interviewing for a role leading a business turnaround at a large Australian not-for-profit. I was to meet with an external guy named Paul for a final check.

Expecting a polite ‘box-ticking’ chat, I was shocked when said Paul jumped all over my resume and, metaphorically, me! He asked why I hadn’t done more, studied more, grown more, challenged myself more, and – ultimately – achieved more!

Hard, but fair
Whilst this may sound like a brutal and unfair experience, it was cathartic. Paul was a shrewd cookie. He saw straight through me and spoke many truths – some hard and some inspiring. For the first time in a long time, I felt challenged and excited. I remember leaving the grilling in a state of agitation and sitting in my car afterwards writing down as much as I could remember of what Paul had said.

I must have done something right because I got the job.

A few months later, my new boss said I should get a mentor. His name was Paul! Over the next year, we worked on growing both myself and the business I led. I was introduced to new ways of thinking and being and was encouraged to start a formal change leadership study. I learned more in that 12+ months than I had in the previous10 years. I loved it. What I learned working with my mentor was a big factor in why I was able to lead my team to achieve extraordinary success.

Right for you?
If you’ve never had a mentor, it’s time you did!

If you are a leader, chances are you will have received at least some level of formal leadership training. That’s great, but the demands of our fast-change inter and post-pandemic world mean you will benefit far more from a bespoke approach.

If you work for yourself, it’s just as important to have someone to help keep you inspired, accountable and on-track.

7 qualities to look for in a great mentoring relationship
Finding the right mentor is hugely important. Look for someone who is:

1. Expert
The main difference between mentoring and coaching is that a mentor has expertise in a specific area. For example, I mentor experts and leaders to build their influence for professional and commercial success to unlock their full potential. I have particular expertise and experience in both of these domains. It’s vital to ensure that your mentor has the requisite expertise to stretch and guide your development. As Peter Drucker wrote,

“No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.”

2. Inspiring
The outcomes that flow from a great mentoring relationship can be extraordinary. Part of this comes from what the mentor can see in you that you can’t see yourself. My favourite definition of a leader is of “one who brings out greatness in others”. So it is with mentoring. Your mentor must have an abundant and optimistic view for your future possibilities – and the skill and tools to help you unlock them.

3. Authentic
Sadly, this term has become overused, but it’s critical in a mentor. This is an intimate relationship based on trust. To get the best results, you will need to make yourself open and vulnerable – to share your thoughts, aspirations and fears? For that to happen, you will need a mentor who is completely up-front, honest and clear about how the relationship is to work. If you don’t sense this is the case, keep looking!

4. Honest
At times brutally! An extension of authenticity, a mentoring relationship should be stretching and encouraging. Total honesty and commitment on both sides are vital to ensuring that progress is maintained, and any diversions are quickly addressed.

There will be tensions – and that’s a good thing.

5. Bold
We live in an age that demands courage and experimentation. It’s likely there are few easy answers in your world, so you need a mentor who will encourage you to be bold. As William Murray wrote,

“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

A good mentor will challenge your assumptions and help you to consider new ideas, actions and possibilities. This is not – and should not be – a safe and predictable process. Expect to be disturbed – in a good way.

6. Impatient
You will be busy and have many competing calls on your time and attention. Mentoring relationships typically concentrate on ‘bigger picture’ issues, behaviours and outcomes.  It’s easy to allow the ‘noise’ of daily work to detract from your focus. A good mentor will keep you on track, insisting that you deliver against apparently impossible deadlines. It’s incredible what we can achieve when pushed. As a result, you will achieve strategic shifts that create new paradigms when you move to higher level of thinking and operating.  

7. Connected
A good business mentor should have a clear commercial focus for you. As part of this, they will be connected with the people, resources, tools and networks that you will need to advance. In this sense, business mentoring is quite different from an academic relationship. It must be much more than a knowledge transfer.

How much does it cost?
Expect to pay $15,000-$30,000+ for a year of mentoring. Some specialists will command a lot more. Whether this is a good investment depends on where you are ‘at’ and what you are trying to achieve.

I believe too many people place blind faith in, for example, MBA programmes. These cost a lot more and involve a more significant time commitment. They enjoy an academic (and social) respectability and offer an implied value through enhanced earning potential.

I’m not so sure. In the rapidly changing world of work, highly-paid executive roles are under threat and salaries are flat-lining.  The evidence to support a return on investment appears ironically anecdotal.

Give it a shot
A good mentoring relationship will provide the heavily customized approach and inherent agility that implies. It should also be tightly focused on delivering the agreed outcomes and ideally repay the investment during the engagement term. That’s certainly the way I operate.  

If you’ve never had a mentor, it’s a good idea to give it a go. I know my first mentor helped to super-accelerate my performance and personal growth. I just wish I had started sooner.

Work with Mark

If you are interested in exploring how I can help you as an executive mentor, you can book an exploratory call here.

You can also find out more about my approach, philosophy and what other’s have to say about their experience here.

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