My direct experience and the experience of countless other CEOs and leaders has shown me that mentorship is critical to be the best leader that you can be for your organization. As the old saying goes, “It’s lonely at the top.” This is definitely the case in the CEO role. You can have a great board of directors, a fantastic management team, and a wonderful and supportive spouse or significant other, but it is still very lonely.
You cannot share everything with the board, or even some of the board members who are likely good mentors, because they have a conflict of interest. You can’t share everything with your team, even your CFO or your corporate counsel because it may involve them or their relationships with other members of the team. You can’t share every intricate technical detail with your spouse because it is unfair to over-burden them, and they most probably won’t have the expertise to really help you solve your most difficult problems and challenges. This article in Business Insider, If You Don’t Have a Mentor, Then Good Luck Starting a Successful Career, is worth reading. If you don’t have a mentor, you should really consider getting one.
Below are five excellent reasons to get a mentor.
(1) You Can’t Know It All
Sometimes entrepreneurs, and CEOs in general, don’t want to ask for help. They see this as a sign of weakness, as if they are supposed to know everything just because they started a company or have a CEO title. It is ludicrous. In fact, the best leaders, the best athletes, and the best CEOs always have coaches. Your mentor doesn’t have to be an executive coach, but that is a good option, especially if they have expertise in the areas where you’re struggling the most, or having the most challenges. It may be that there is no single individual that can be your mentor in all areas. So you can look into getting more than one mentor. Ideally you’ll have at least one mentor that has experience in your role and domain expertise in your field. If you are struggling with organizational growth and development, then get an expert in those areas to coach you, and find one using tips stated in this article in Business Insider: How to Get a Mentor.
(2) There is Huge Value in Having a Knowledgeable Sounding Board
If you have a mentor that is a former or current CEO, and he or she has domain expertise in your technical field or industry, or both, I can tell you from my personal experience, it is really helpful. Having someone that cares for you, supports your success, and knows about your struggles is beneficial because they have “walked in your shoes” and done it all. I can’t say that I have always taken the recommendations from all of my mentors over the years, but I have found it invaluable to have a knowledgeable sounding board that can help clarify my thinking about challenging issues.
(3) Wouldn’t it be Nice to Learn from Other Peoples Mistakes?
If you select a mentor that has been a CEO or serial entrepreneur, I can guarantee you that they have seen many of the sale challenges and problems that you are seeing in your business. They have overcome many of the same obstacles. They may have numerous ways to solve or address a problem before they found the best way for them to successfully remove it. If you rely on a person like this for guidance and council, you can get to the right answer much faster than if you had to try and figure it all out yourself.
(4) As Iron Sharpens Iron, so One Person Sharpens Another
This is from the book of Proverbs in the Bible. It is a universal truth. If you have a mentor that has walked in your shoes, he or she will not only have the knowledge from experience, but also the emotional intelligence to work through these problems. If you have a sounding board that is as smart or smarter than you, combined with lots of experience, they can make you a better thinker.
(5) Mentors are A Vehicle for Networking and Credibility
Good mentors with deep domain experience can also be a resource for customer, supplier and strategic partner introductions. If they are formally associated with your company, then you can leverage off of their reputation and credibility when you are dealing with key stakeholders and work on raising money for your company. They are also a great resource for pointing you in the right direction for guidance and council when you’re dealing with a situation or problem that is outside their depth. I’ve had many situations as both a mentee and a mentor that either my mentor or I might say, “I don’t know enough about that, but I know someone who would be perfect for you to talk to about that.”
Finding a Mentor and What to Look For
So if you’re convinced that having a mentor can be valuable or maybe even essential to your success and the success of your company, you must be thinking, how do I find a great mentor? Some of the best places to look are within your professional network. I’ve always tried to find the best and brightest people I can find, and approach them by saying, “Would you be willing to spend a couple of hours a month with me to help mentor me?” The more specific you can be in what guidance you’re seeking the better.
It might be that the person you approach is too busy, so ask them if they have any referrals in mind. Networking groups can also be a good place to meet potential mentors. I have actually used these myself, and I know a lot of people that use such organizations, like YPO. I have also hired professional coaches and experts to help me on particularly thorny issue in which they’re experts. Working with difficult issues is one of the key things I do at QuestFusion, but there are also coaches that have expertise in human resources, corporate culture, and organizational development. I can give the CEO perspective, but they can give specific guidance and usually have a refined set of tools that they use in those areas.
If you’ve decided to get a mentor, you want to select someone that is a good personal fit for you and people with peer mentors tend to rise faster in their organizations. An article I found, A Leadership Coach Says There’s One Type of Mentoring Relationship That Could Help You Rise Faster In Your Career, does a great job covering this. Another great article about successful business founders and their mentors can be found on the Business Insider site and prove that you’re never too big or smart to have and benefit from a mentor: This is Who Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and 10 More Tech Leaders Consider Their Mentors.
I wish you great success in your entrepreneurial journey and hope you find some wonderful mentors, and find as much value in having great mentors as I’ve had.