The Importance of Finding the Right Mentor

If there's one thing I've learned over my career as an entrepreneur, it's that good things are rarely accomplished alone. Success often hinges on getting the right advice or support from the right people.

Most likely, we all have had mentors at one point in life, whether we realize it or not. Early mentors are typically parents, grandparents or other family members, followed by teachers later on. Every great doctor, lawyer, teacher, and business leader probably learned his or her craft from someone who came before.

When you have a mentor, you benefit from learning from someone who has already reached the point where you are trying to get to. They understand the sacrifices that need to be made, the pitfalls that should be avoided, and the challenges that can arise along the way. Sometimes we think of a mentor as someone with the "right" contacts (the "old boys network"); but I think it's more important to find someone who can teach you skills and offer advice in your specific field.

A mentor can have tremendous impact on your self-confidence. Anytime you strike out to try something new, there's going to be a lot of self-doubt and questioning involved. Sometimes, you can overcome that uncertainty on your own- but it's a lot easier if you get a few supportive words (even a brief email) from someone you respect.

If you are wondering how you can find the right mentor for your career or business venture, here are a few pieces of advice:

1. Find someone who listens.
Over the course of my career, I've come across numerous people who are ready to spout off advice without taking the time to first understand me and my situation. For example, I've been told that my business should lower its prices, raise its prices, expand into new areas, or close altogether. The problem is that none of these advice-givers bothered to ask me a single question first. When looking for a mentor, focus on those people who ask thoughtful questions and then listen to your answers

2. Look for people who have walked the walk.
Experience is invaluable. While there are plenty of people out there who can talk a good game, you want to find someone who has real-world experience in your area. Good mentors will share their own experiences with you and help you apply what they have learned to your own path.

3. Beware of hidden agendas.
I have had a few situations where advisors haven't had my best interests at heart. For example, someone once told me to avoid getting into a certain business- when all along they were planning on opening the exact same business themselves! Trust your gut when it comes to advice, particularly when someone is being overly persistent with his or her advice.

4. Be bold, but respectful.
In some cases, the mentor-mentee relationship forms organically, and it's beautiful when this happens. But, you may need to take matters into your own hands to find someone.

Think about the people you admire and share the qualities you value. Then, reach out to them: invite them to coffee or lunch. I've found that people are generally flattered by the simple fact that you've looked them up to ask for advice. But always, always be respectful of their time; no one owes you anything.

5. Find someone who's willing to push back when needed.
If your mentor agrees with everything you say, you'll probably have some really pleasant conversations, but you won't make any forward progress. If you are truly serious about growing, look for someone who can both support and challenge you. Some of my most important conversations were with those that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

The final thing about mentors is don't forget to pay it forward yourself. Be aware of those situations when someone is reaching out to you for advice. None of us get to where we are alone. If you've been fortunate enough to find success, it's time to share your insight and experiences with others.