Seven steps to developing a great mentor relationship
By Finn Kelly
I currently have four mentors. All of them I deeply respect as a person, as a leader in their field, and I am extremely grateful for the input they give to make me become a better person, leader and entrepreneur.
Over the last week I have been asked by five different people for advice on how to get a mentor and how best to structure the relationship. This is not a new question for me, so in order to save time when the next person asks, I thought I would write it down so everyone can benefit from it.
The first point I would like to make is that there is no set way to run a mentor/mentee relationship; it is very dependent on the two personalities involved.
Here are some of my tips on how to ensure the relationship has a chance to be a successful.
Why do you want a mentor?
Like most things, you should always start with a why. It is amazing that people can’t give me a clear answer when I ask them this. Non-acceptable reasons are because you want to be able to say you have someone as a mentor or that you want to get access to their connections.
I have four mentors because I worked out that there were four reasons why I wanted a mentor and felt it was a good idea to specialise for each:
- I wanted an insight from an entrepreneur who had built huge companies from scratch without investors and had successful exits;
- I wanted a very successful female entrepreneur who had worked with their partner so I could get insights which could help my professional and personal relationships with my partner Sarah;
- I wanted a great leader from the corporate world so I could learn about team development; and
- I also wanted an American mentor to give me insights on doing business there.
Who would be a suitable fit?
Just because the person may be famous or be the expert in their field, does not necessarily mean that they would be the right mentor for you. You need to think about what personality traits you relate to, how accessible they are for you, and most importantly, do you respect them as a person.
Approaching a mentor
This is where I see a lot of common mistakes. Generally the reason why you pick someone to be a mentor is because they are successful.
Successful people are very busy and have demands for their time coming from everywhere. Would you give up regular time to someone you don’t know just to help them and get nothing in return? I expect the answer is no so why do you expect someone else to.
Do not ask someone straightaway for them to be your mentor. Like a new date you need to spark their interest first by going through a courting experience. Find a way to get an opportunity to have a cup of coffee with them.
Make sure you become very prepared for this coffee. This is your chance to impress them with your desire to improve yourself, to share important insights about yourself and what your vision is, and to also show you respect them and to ask them some questions which clearly show your appetite to learn from them.
Thank them for their time and tell them how much you would love the opportunity to be able to have another coffee in the future with them if they would be willing. If this happens a couple of times it is now acceptable to ask them if they would be willing to formalise the mentoring relationship.
Get the PA/EA on side
Generally these people are among the most trusted people in successful people’s lives and they are also a gatekeeper to their time. You want them to think that you are a lovely person and deserving of their boss’s time. It is pretty simple, always remember their name and be polite and courteous to them.
Making the most of their priceless time
Time is worth a lot of money for these people, so you better respect it by being adequately prepared and always on time, and be prepared to go to them. I like to send a brief agenda to them before the session so they can see that I am prepared, but more strategically, it gives them a chance to think about how they can help me on a particular topic, which means more value to me!
Make sure you also act on any action items that come out of the session so they can see that you are actually taking on board what they say and not just going through the motions.
Mentee becomes the mentor
Like any relationship, it needs to be beneficial both ways; it can’t just be take, take, take. I think this is one of the most important requirements to make the relationship last. Think about what skills, knowledge or connections you have that your mentor could benefit from. If you are young, it could be teaching them about technology, it could be giving them access to what your business does or you do as a profession. I personally define success in any mentoring relationship that I have as being achieved when I become the mentor one day. This means that I have grown, we have great mutual respect for each other and the relationship is thriving.
Ending the relationship
There are numerous reasons why a relationship with a mentor should end. It could be because you feel that you have outgrown them, or you don’t have adequate time, or that you don’t gel with the person the way you thought you would. It is completely fine to end a relationship, but it is extremely important that you do it in a professional way which highlights your ongoing respect for the person. Remember, they are doing you a favor in the first place.
I attribute a lot of my success to my past and current mentors and I have made some amazing ongoing relationships. I hope you can be as lucky.
Finn Kelly is the CEO and co-founder of award-winning Gen Y financial advisory firm, Wealth Enhancers, along with the parent company, premier private wealth management firm WE Private.