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Why You Need a Mentor

Posted By Ron Sidman, Friday, February 16, 2018

If you haven’t yet established a relationship with one or more confidants with whom you can share your deepest concerns and get reliably helpful feedback, you’re missing a huge opportunity. 

Most successful CEOs and senior executives are not totally independent and self-sufficient    pioneers who boldly move forward without the need for advice or a shoulder to cry on. In fact, some of the least successful CEOs I know have avoided mentor help because of fear of looking weak while the mega-stars almost always thrive because of mentor guidance.

 

Bill Gates credits Warren Buffet with teaching him how to deal with tough situations and how to think long term. Mark Zuckerberg got advice from Steve Jobs about how to build a high-performing team and about focusing on changing peoples’ lives. Nike founder Phil Knight says if it hadn’t been for his mentor and co-founder Bill Bowerman, there would have been no Nike.

 

While I certainly don’t put myself in the same league as the aforementioned billionaires, I too benefited from mentors in my career. Bart Wendell is a business consultant and psychologist whose experience working with family companies was especially relevant to my situation early in my career. Joe Selame was a highly talented graphic designer who taught me the basics of good design and helped bring out the innovator in me. I also for years met monthly with a group of successful “big league” CEOs organized by a company that was called TEC at the time. Their guidance was of enormous value during the ups and downs of my career and particularly when the time came to sell the company.

 

Since that sale in 2004, I myself have enjoyed mentoring many JPMA CEOs and executives and for the past three years I’ve been the lead mentor at the Institute for Entrepreneurship at Florida Gulf Coast University. Learning how best to help people of all ages succeed in whatever it is they are trying to accomplish has been the highlight of my “second career”.  Here’s some of what I’ve discovered. 

 

Characteristics of great mentors

Mentoring is a skill of its own. Just being a successful executive yourself does not teach you how to help others. Here are some of the characteristics of the best practitioners:

  • Totally supportive—not in a position to cause you harm or affect your compensation or standing in any negative way.
  • Empathetic—has a sincere interest in helping you solve your problems and improve your life.
  • Curious—asks open-ended questions that enable you to talk openly about your thoughts and actions and pays full attention to the story and the story behind the story.
  • Honest but diplomatic—able to be direct without being offensive.
  • Experienced—already gone down the same road that you are going down.
  • Discreet—able to keep everything discussed totally confidential without exception.
  • Connected—having a broad and relevant network of resources.
  • Innovative—recognizes opportunities that you may have not thought of and able to stimulate your creative juices.

What a mentor can do for you

Consultant and mentor Bob Proctor defines a mentor as, “someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” The fact is that we all live in one form of a “mental prison” or another. What I mean is that our mindsets have blind spots and walls that prevent us from seeing everything objectively. And you’re not going to ever get the straight scoop from your board, your boss, your employees, or even friends and family. A good mentor that genuinely wants to help you and has no axe to grind can quite simply open your eyes and bolster your confidence. This can make all the difference in the world regarding your ability to learn and progress.

 

How to find the best mentor

Just like the process you would use to hire a new employee, you need to start with an understanding of at least the general area of needs you are trying to fill. In my case, I was looking for someone with a family business background who also understood the particular stresses of being a CEO. It was the emotional and personal side of business I wanted to talk to someone about, not the nuts and bolts of how to manage a company where I felt more confident.

Once you know what you’re looking for, use your existing network of business associates, trade associations, friends, and family to find someone who you know you can trust because of the referral. Then follow the typical process of phone screening followed by a trial session. I ended up finding someone through a referral from a member of my TEC CEO group.

 

Next Steps

If you don’t currently benefit from a relationship with a qualified supportive mentor, I would highly recommend at least giving it a try. Use the methods listed above to identify a candidate and have at least one meeting to see what comes out of it. You really have little to lose and you may have created a new life-changing relationship.

As always, if you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges or you just want someone to brainstorm, vent, or commiserate with, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Sam Adams at  sadams@jpma.org.

Tags:  mentor 

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