We learn through books and from professors. We gain knowledge through experience, both good and bad. But where do we go for been-there-done-that advice that will shorten learning curves, accelerate growth and allow us to avoid costly career mistakes?
The answer, for many, is a mentor.
But not all mentors are created equal. Some are good at almost everything, while others have specific niche qualities that may help. Others are good cheerleaders, but don’t know when to provide tough love. Some are active listeners; some, it seems, just like to hear themselves talk.
So how do you know which person might be a good mentor for you? What characteristics and traits make for a good mentor? To help answer those questions, we asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) this question:
What is the No. 1 quality young professionals should look for in a mentor?
Here are their helpful, even mentor-like, answers…
1. Find Someone Who Has Done It Before in Your Market
I’ve seen friends work with mentors who are good with business, but haven’t built a company in their exact market. These relationships can be helpful, yet can’t compare to the quantum leap a mentor who has done exactly what you’re trying to do can create. A few years ago, I had a mentor for my first business that was 15 years ahead of me in the same market, and he helped me grow 100% in a year.
2. They Must Be Both Tough and Soft
Young professionals need to seek out a mentor with that traditional tough coach persona that pushes them. But in that same person, they should look for someone who also has moments of softness that gives them space and understanding. It’s this combination of teacher/trainer and supporter/cheerleader that can really help with development in their career and with business endeavors.
3. The Best Mentors Have Humility
Humility is a key factor in any interpersonal relationship, including mentoring. I’ve had mentors who thought they knew everything, and the mentoring process was just them reeling off a list of instructions and barely concealed boasting. The best mentors are willing to listen, to help the mentee think through problems on their own, and understand that their role is to guide, not command.
4. Do They Encourage Critical Thinking?
In my professional career I’ve been very honored to have several mentors that have helped me tremendously. All of the mentors I hold in the highest regard were all extremely patient and listened well but, most importantly, understood how to give great advice by helping me come to it on my own. Look for a mentor who helps you through critical thinking processes.
5. Prioritize Constant Learners
A mentor is a great teacher, but they should also continue learning themselves. A good mentor should be up-to-date with what’s going on in your industry. The world is constantly changing, and what worked a year ago may not work the same today, so it’s important to look for a mentor who is constantly learning. Find someone who is on top of the trends, developments and topics that will impact you.
6. Look for Aligning Ideas of Success
Success can mean many different things for many different people. That’s why it’s so crucial for a mentee to have a grasp on what he or she deems as success before looking for a mentor. That idea of success is what can help guide you towards finding a mentor who is like-minded and can help give you the tools you need to achieve your idea of success.
7. Seek Recommendations From Previous Mentees
On the face of it, it makes sense to look for a mentor who has been successful in your field. But mentoring is a skill in its own right, and it doesn’t always correlate with business success. One can be a fantastic entrepreneur and a terrible mentor. So, in addition to making sure your mentor has the right experience, try to find out if they have a successful track record of mentoring, too.
8. Discover Whether They Have Integrity
A mentor will not just teach you knowledge and skills, they will help guide how you view the world and the types of choices you make. Look for a mentor with integrity that will help shape you as the best possible human being. If your mentor has integrity, you will emulate those skills and that integrity will help guide you in your future choices.
9. Are They Willing to Work With You?
The number one quality young professionals should look for is willingness. Mentoring is work. Make sure your mentor is willing to work with you. Your mentor should know that you probably will not get it right the first time and maybe not the second. If you are willing to put in the work to replicate your mentor’s success, they should in turn be willing.
10. How Often Will They Make Time for You?
Choose someone who makes time for you and genuinely cares about helping you. Technology has now made it easier than ever to keep in touch. You could have a mentor halfway around the world who is more available through Slack messages and Zoom meetings than a mentor who lives in the same city but can only meet for coffee once every couple of months.
11. Discover If They Are Mentors or Advisers
We often conflate advisers with mentors. When I think about the best mentors I’ve had, they have been those who always put my success and happiness first on their priority list. That doesn’t mean they make me feel good and rubber-stamp my thoughts. A good mentor will challenge you to improve and help when you run into roadblocks. But you want to make sure that their concern is you, not your startup.
12. Advice Should Be Strategic and Innovative
It’s important to have a mentor who looks at everything they help you with in an innovative and strategic way — one that you would not have thought of. You don’t need someone that gives generic advice but instead truly homes in on what you are doing and your personality in order to suggest something that is outside your comfort zone.
13. Patience Isn’t Optional
When I was looking for for a mentor, one important thing for me was the mentor’s patience. As an entrepreneur, I got used to the “I know everything” and “I can do everything myself” mantras, and getting to some level of success only enforces this. A mentor who would be passionate enough to show me how wrong I am was the best find for me.
14. Choose Someone Respected
Not only should you respect your mentor and their process, so should their coworkers, bosses, employees and the other individuals they interact with on a daily basis. If your mentor is respected by their peers, it likely means they can help instill those qualities that helped gain that respect within you. Once you have earned that respect, you can use it to lead and mentor those around you.
15. You Must Be Comfortable With Asking Them Questions
Young professionals should seek out mentors that are open with their knowledge to help others succeed. Do they answer your questions in an honest and authentic way? This is important, because it will help you feel more comfortable going to them for advice in the future.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.