How to Find a Business Mentor Who’ll Help You Achieve Your Leadership Goals

I often get asked for advice on how to find a mentor. This guest post by Rene D. Petrin provides a nice 8-step approach:

Back in December, Dan talked about “10 Big Development Goals for Leaders in 2012.” Goal #7 in the blog post stated: “Find a mentor and/or hire a coach.” While a formal mentoring relationship – meaning one that takes place in a monitored program within an organization – is the ideal, sometimes an informal mentoring relationship is what’s available. The question is how do you go about making it happen?

Here are eight steps to follow:

Step #1: Identify one or two specific leadership skills you feel that you could improve through mentoring. Is it your ability to make strategic decisions in a quick and decisive manner? Is it your ability to recognize and develop talent to improve the success of your department and yourself? Something else?

Step #2: Now assess what style of leadership is best suited to you. (As you know, not everyone leads in the same way.) Are you more collaborative as a leader, working through consensus? Or are you a decisive type of leader who makes the decisions and motivates others to follow those decisions?

Step #3: Determine whether you want a mentor who mirrors your leadership style so that you can improve upon how you lead…or decide if finding a mentor with a different leadership style might challenge you more and help you grow as a leader by adding new dimensions to your own personal style.

Step #4: Consider the type of person you want as a mentor. For informal mentoring to work, you have to have focus. The first three steps have provided you with this focus. But the other important component needed is the relationship aspect. Think about the personal qualities and/or communication styles that you respond to. Do you want a mentor who is more sociable than business-like? Or one who is more of a thinker than a doer? Perhaps you respond better to warmth and friendliness rather than someone who is more aloof, despite his or her success.

Step #5: Now make a list of potential leaders who you may want to approach as mentors. These people could be in your company, but they could also be elsewhere, such as an alumni organization or networking group. Don’t forget to ask colleagues for recommendations as well. An important point: this may be obvious, but it’s worth saying: only put leaders with proven track records on your list.

Step #6: Approach and interview the candidates. Have a conversation with at least three of the leaders on your list to evaluate if the person would be the right fit for you. Approaching potential mentors and eventually asking “the winner” to be your mentor are the hardest steps in the process. Remember, it’s how you approach the person that makes all the difference. Here’s one strategy for doing just that:

• Make contact via phone or email introducing yourself and indicating that you are working on self-improvement in the area of leadership and that you would welcome input from an experienced leader who has been successful in this area. Would this person have 30 minutes or so to have a discussion with you on your goals and how best to approach these? Maybe you could do this over lunch, as you would also like to thank that person for his or her time.

• If you feel the person might indeed be a good fit, ask him or her (at the end of the meeting) if you could stay in touch with any follow-up questions. The person’s response – and HOW he or she responds – will be a good indicator as to whether your assessment is on target. Does the person sound welcoming and enthusiastic about staying in touch? Or does the person sound noncommittal?

• Send a handwritten thank you note. In a pinch, an email will do, but nothing beats a personal note of thanks. (Note: you should still send a thank you, even if you’ve ruled the person out as mentor.)

Step #7: Decide and ask. After interviewing several candidates, you are now ready to ask the person you think is best if he or she will be your informal mentor. Before you do this, it’s important for you to be prepared to specifically state what you’re looking for and how you want the relationship to work. Since you’ve already had one or more conversations, your prospect has an idea of what you’re seeking, but now be clear and as specific as possible. In addition, you should be prepared to discuss setting some guidelines for your mentoring relationship. Here are some to consider:

• How often will you meet? Weekly is ideal, and once a month is the recommended minimum.

• Will your meetings take place face-to-face, over the phone, through Skype, or combination of these?

• How will you approach confidential issues?

• How will you communicate to one another if something isn’t working in the relationship?

• How long do you want to meet before you re-assess the need to continue or end the relationship? Note: in formal mentoring programs, the relationship typically lasts nine months to one year. We suggest a minimum of four to six months for an informal relationship.

• Discuss concerns you both have about engaging in this type of relationship.

Step #8: When your chosen mentor has agreed to the informal mentoring relationship, then congratulate yourself for finding someone who will be strategically important to your career and to your growth as a leader. To succeed, make sure you keep to the guidelines you’ve agreed to in Step # 7.

Here’s to your leadership success in 2012!

Rene Petrin is the founder and president of Management Mentors, a company that has been designing and implementing business mentoring programs since 1989. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook.