1. Look beyond the shiny objects
Though the most successful or famous people in the industry may seem a logical first choice for mentor, the truth is the Bill Gateses and Sheryl Sandbergs of the world are not only exceptionally busy and unlikely to respond to a cold email or LinkedIn request, but also may not be the best mentors for you.
A better bet is to broaden your search to include people who have found success in different industries as well as advisors who may be interested in your business. You may also want to consider mentors of opposite genders who can lend a different perspective. Most importantly, keep in mind that chemistry matters and look for someone who shares your values, understands your point of view and whose company you enjoy.
2. Consider your peers
Don’t limit your vision of a mentor to someone older and further along in his or her career than you. Neither is a requirement for a great mentor.
Instead, consider tapping peers who have expertise or experience in different areas than you do. If you have a technical background, a fellow founder with product marketing expertise could likely provide you excellent guidance in addition to a deep well of support. In addition, look into founder or CEO groups which may provide an opportunity to talk with — and learn from — others who are facing similar challenges and solving similar problems.
3. Set clear objectives
Your mentee/mentor relationship need not follow a specific, formal program. A more organic approach can evolve to meet your needs, as well as those of your mentor’s, over time.
That said, as a mentee you should nevertheless have some clear objectives in mind for what you hope the relationship will achieve. Do you need advice on specific topics? Do you want your mentor to hold you accountable? Can you provide assistance to your mentor as well? Gaining clarity on the purpose of the mentorship ensures you’re not wasting your mentor’s time — or your own.
4. Find ways to give back
For younger founders, asking for guidance, feedback and help can sometimes be uncomfortable. Your relationship will feel more equal and collaborative if you can find ways to give back to your mentor.
Even if it is not possible to provide an equivalent level of guidance or expertise, get creative and you may find big and small ways to help your mentor out. For example, you might offer your mentor a ride to the airport and chat about a business issue along the way. Or, you could ask if your mentor needs any help from you, whether it’s tapping your own area of expertise, providing feedback on their projects or introducing them to someone they want to meet.
Your mentor may not want anything at all. But offering help and returning the favor ensures that the relationship doesn’t seem too one-sided.
5. Always follow up
Those who are open to mentoring often naturally derive a lot of personal satisfaction and fulfillment from providing guidance and advice. So one of the best ways you can show your appreciation to a mentor is by telling him or her how you put their guidance to use. If a suggested solution to a problem worked, let them know. In addition, be sure to update your mentor regularly on how your business is doing. Nothing formal is required here; even a quick email or phone call is enough to keep them in the loop and acknowledge their role in your and your company’s progress.
Getting the most out of a mentorship
Finding a trusted mentor who understands you, helps you sidestep potential pitfalls and contributes to your wins is certainly enviable. Put some thought into who would make the best mentor for you, and then work to cultivate an irreplaceably valuable relationship.