Small Giants Community

September 1, 2016

5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of A Mentor Relationship

RobHiram.jpgIf you know the Small Giants Community, you know we’re pretty big on the idea that connecting like-minded leaders can transform business success. In fact, we see it in action throughout our Community every single day. When leaders from all walks of life and stages of business come together to challenge, inspire, and listen to one another, magic happens.

No matter where you are in your career, there’s always uncharted territory ahead - and guidance from someone who’s been there can make all the difference in your next steps. Whether you’re at the beginning stages of launching a new business or a seasoned leader planning for succession, cultivating a great relationship with a trusted mentor (or a few!) is often the X-factor that helps you make thoughtful decisions, avoid missteps, and strengthen your direction. From finding the right mentor to establishing the perfect cadence, it takes a lot to make a great mentorship tick.

No man (or woman) is an island, so we’ve rounded up five best practices for making the most of a mentor relationship. Even better, we’ve got words of wisdom from those who know the topic best: experienced mentors Paul Greenstone (CEO of Datanational) and Jimmy Kalb (owner & president of Optifuse) weigh in on what makes a mentorship thrive. Ready to take your mentorship experience to the next level? Read on.

1. Put yourself in the position to meet new people.

A commitment to lifelong learning is essential to the growth of any values-driven leader. While reading and self-teaching is a part of the equation, you should also work to keep your professional development and networking fresh and varied. Attend leadership events, join online groups, get yourself out there and in the conversation. Seek out events that will expose you to the right kind of leaders and provide you with built-in commonalities,  like a shared industry or similar leadership philosophies.

Remember: if you’ve identified a mentor you’d like to connect with, look to your existing network for someone who can make an introduction. A warm introduction from a shared connection is a great alternative to a cold-call meeting.

Words of wisdom from a mentor…

“In my career, many lessons were learned the hard way... by trial and error. Sometimes I wish I had a mentor who sat me down to explain business in a “big picture” way, before I began drilling down to the important details. Business isn’t really that complicated... at least in theory, but there is a big difference in knowing what needs to be done and actually executing it. That’s where a mentor can really step in and guide mentees.”

- Jimmy Kalb

2. Pick the right mentor for you.

While there’s something to be gained from every mentorship, the recipe for a long-lasting, high-value mentorship requires some strategic thinking. Let’s say that your current goal is to open a brick-and-mortar store in the next five years, and the CEO of Google offers to mentor you. Exciting, sure - but who’s a better mentor for you: him, or someone who’s in the trenches, successfully running three or four stores of their own?

A great mentor is someone who’s successfully done something that you want to do. Consider where they are in their business life cycle. You want to select a mentor who has a career path you’d like to emulate, and someone who you admire both professionally and personally. When you look at their business experiences, you should see something in their story that excites you and resonates with what you’re hoping to accomplish. Whether you’re inspired by a particular career move or their leadership qualities, a great mentor is someone who has had a specific kind of success that speaks to your vision.

Words of wisdom from a mentor…

“The first question I ask new mentees is: why am I here? No matter where they are in their career, it’s my job to help them analyze their upcoming decisions and work with them to broaden their horizons and make sure their focus is clear. A business plan is a living document - it’s not meant to be a be-all and end-all. It needs to be continually modified, and that’s where a mentorship can make all the difference.”

- Paul Greenstone

3. Be clear about your needs and expectations.

You’ve put yourself in the right position to meet aspirational leaders, and you’ve thoughtfully selected the right person to be your mentor. Before you dive headfirst into that relationship, spend some time reflecting. Sit down and clarify with yourself what you’d ideally want to get out of this relationship. Document your goals and expectations for this process. What are your questions? What kind of help do you need? How much of a time commitment are you asking of them, and is it reasonable? Together with your mentor, establish a framework for the relationship and agree on a cadence that works for both of you. Going in with goals and level-set expectations will cultivate a healthy, successful relationship.

Remember that the accountability for this process is on you. A mentor is there to guide you and be a sounding board, but it’s up to you to bring the right conversations to the table and put their guidance into action. It’s a privilege that your mentor is sharing their valuable time and insights with you - make the most of it!

Words of wisdom from a mentor…

“During the first meeting with a new mentee, I explain that I am there to discuss my experiences with them. I also explain that the onus for meeting is on them.  I tell them that they need to be proactive in scheduling mentoring time with me. This shows me what their level of commitment is to the relationship. The ones who are committed become great mentees who I continue to keep in contact with for years.”

- Jimmy Kalb

4. Be communicative, intentional, and grateful.

When it comes to nurturing your mentorship, defer to the golden rule: treat your mentor how you’d like to be treated.

Be communicative. Take the lead on all communications with your mentor, clearly calibrating expectations along the way, setting up meetings and respecting their time, and sharing your action steps and wins. Don’t be shy about sharing success stories that have come from your relationship - it will demonstrate how much their investment in you is already paying off!

Be intentional. Take your mentor’s advice to heart and find ways to implement the feedback that resonates with you most. If you’re all talk and no action, your mentor may pull back from the relationship. Show up, open up, and buck up - this is your chance to grow!

Be grateful. Keep in mind that serving as a mentor is a pretty selfless endeavor. Adopt an attitude of gratitude towards your mentor and find ways to personally thank them for their time and attention. A successful mentorship will flourish into a close relationship that will last for years, so treat it with care.

Words of wisdom from a mentor…

“As a mentor, your mentees really have to want to work hard to make themselves successful. They have to deliver on their word and be credible. Ultimately, my job is to work myself out of a relationship. I want them to be so busy being successful that they no longer have time for me. But, I’ll be here for them when a new bump in the road occurs and they reach back out to me for guidance.”

- Paul Greenstone

5. Pay it forward (and backward!).

Now’s your time to shine! As you progress in your mentorship and advance in your career, look for opportunities to serve as someone else’s mentor. Pay it forward by speaking at events where your expertise will guide others, or sponsor organizations that have helped you on your journey.

As you continue your relationship with your mentor, take every opportunity to pay it backward by honoring the time and attention they’ve given you over the years. Ask your mentor for opportunities to help them out, and watch carefully for spaces where you can be of service to them. If your business sells a product or service that can help your mentor, hook them up! Small gestures like simply picking up the check when you meet for a meal or sending thank-you notes show how much you value the relationship.

Words of wisdom from a mentor…

“I often think back to the words of Dr. Douglas Wilson,  a professor that I had in engineering school.  One day he abruptly stopped his lecture on digital circuits and gave our class two pieces of advice regarding life…

1. Never stop asking questions.  Good questions are far more important than finding good answers.

2. The only way to avoid making mistakes in life is by gaining a lot of experiences...and the only way to gain experiences is by making a lot of mistakes…

30 years later, this advice remains some of the best mentoring I’ve ever received...and so it’s time for me to pay it forward.”

- Jimmy Kalb


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About Small Giants Community

Our Purpose is to identify, connect and develop purpose-driven leaders. The Small Giants Community is a designated L3C organization, a hybrid between a for-profit and a nonprofit entity that prioritizes mission and social purpose. Passionate, purposeful business leaders from around the world come to us to train and develop future leaders in their organizations, connect with like-hearted peers, and learn how to run a values-driven business. Whether you’re a budding leader who wants to grow or a founder/CEO looking for new business best friends, there’s a place for you here.