Aquila Capital Partners

Austin &
New York City

Looking for a Mentor? Here’s What You Need to Know

People don’t leave a company, they leave a boss.

This sentiment underscores the importance of guidance, learning, and support in a professional journey. Yet, the hunt for a mentor can feel like a search for a needle in a haystack. Mentorship, in its many shapes and forms, can often be found where we least expect it. It’s about more than job titles, industry boundaries, or familial relations.

Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, often attributes a significant part of his success to his mentor Benjamin Graham. Graham, a renowned economist and investor, taught Buffett at Columbia Business School and later employed him at his investment firm. Buffett frequently acknowledges the profound influence Graham had on his investment philosophy and his life, shaping him into the successful investor he is today.

In its essence, mentorship is about the exchange of wisdom, growth, and shaping your career path. Be it your boss, a family member, or an industry peer; a mentor is a compass, offering directions that can lead to remarkable outcomes in your professional journey. 

Here’s what everyone seeking a mentor should know beforehand.

Learning from the Top: The Boss as Your Mentor

Could your ultimate mentor be the individual sitting right in the corner office, your boss? 

We often overlook the possibility of our boss being our ideal mentor, particularly when stuck working under someone lacking finesse in coaching or mentoring. Even more disconcerting is when an enterprise leader unashamedly brands themselves a “benevolent dictator.” What then?

In any case, let’s not lose sight of the power of mentorship that an exceptional boss can provide. The unparalleled value that comes with having an inspiring boss is nothing short of apprenticeship. Their guidance and insight are woven into the very fabric of your day-to-day work. Compare that to the intermittent meetings with a conventional mentor, which may occur once a month, or once a quarter—it’s clear who has more time and influence in shaping your growth.

Having a boss as a great mentor certainly worked for Warren Buffet, as well as for Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. She began her mentorship relationship with Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury, when she worked at the World Bank and the Treasury Department. Summers was not merely a boss; he was a champion who provided Sandberg with the guidance and support she needed to climb the ranks. Their mentorship relationship wasn’t a quarterly check-in; it was an everyday practice with consistent learning and feedback. With the guidance of Summers, Sandberg honed her skills and gained invaluable insights in strategic decision-making and leadership. These lessons proved invaluable when she transitioned to the tech industry, first at Google and then at Facebook, where she became instrumental in turning the social media platform into a profitable enterprise.

At the end of the day, having an outstanding boss as your mentor is an opportunity of a lifetime. It offers an everyday learning experience that surpasses any conventional form of education or mentoring. Always aspire to work under a boss who is not only exceptional at their job but also passionate about mentoring their team.

But here arises a significant question: what if the most readily available source of mentorship, your boss, isn’t providing the guidance you need?

Different strokes for different folks: Broadening Your Horizons

If you’re not being challenged or growing under your current boss, it may be time to seek out a new job or turn to other individuals who can provide the guidance you need.

Imagine walking into a room filled with wisdom from different corners of the world, each person brimming with unique skills and experiences. That’s the power of having multiple mentors––your very own council of experts each offering distinct perspectives that shape you into a well-rounded professional. While having even one mentor is infinitely better than none, a handful of mentors usually offer more comprehensive growth.

For instance, take the case of Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. She often shares how her ability to navigate the corporate world and eventually lead a multinational was a result of mentorship not only from within her workplace but also beyond. Nooyi, in her formative years, sought advice from several mentors who offered diverse insights, each contributing to a different facet of her professional growth. These mentors ranged from university professors, to colleagues from different departments, and even a few competitors. This broad mentorship spectrum endowed her with varied skills and a holistic view, which was instrumental in her successful tenure at PepsiCo.

Consider broadening your mentorship horizons. Don’t limit yourself to just one mentor and don’t be confined to your workplace. The wider the net you cast, the greater the variety of wisdom you will gather, enabling you to grow into a versatile professional.

The Case Of The Family-Mentor

Our minds often leap to accomplished professionals in our industry when we think of mentors. However, one’s first mentor could be found much closer to home: a parent or a relative. These figures often shape our earliest understanding of the world and can provide enduring, personalized mentorship throughout our lives.

I grew up with family and friends who were entrepreneurs and were always talking business around the dinner table. As a child, I was always inspired by my grandfather’s work in the oil business and by my father’s entrepreneurship. Their work ethic, and by extension their mentorship, created a drive that has continued to propel me in my professional career. 

Conversely, family-based mentorship can bring with it a complexity due to the emotional connections inherent in familial relationships. It’s for this reason that having a mentor outside of your family can also be beneficial, offering guidance without the emotional entanglements that may arise within a family.

Bob Iger, second-time CEO of The Walt Disney Company, has often shared how his father, a World War II veteran and academic, was his first mentor. His father’s discipline, commitment, and respect for intellectual curiosity greatly influenced Iger’s work ethic. However, Iger also recognized the need for external mentorship, and sought guidance from his long-time boss and former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner. This outside mentorship offered a fresh perspective and helped Iger develop his strategic thinking and leadership style that later defined his successful tenure at Disney.

While parents or relatives often make excellent mentors, don’t overlook the potential benefits of seeking mentorship outside of your family. Striking a balance between these two sources can offer you a wealth of wisdom and a more nuanced perspective on your professional journey.

Making Mentorship Work: Setting Clear Goals

In seeking mentorship, clarity is your most reliable ally. It’s crucial to define precisely what you hope to gain from your mentor. Do you need their guidance on a particular project? Are you seeking to understand a specific industry better? Clear-cut objectives are essential––despite their experience and wisdom, mentors cannot intuitively grasp your learning needs. You set the agenda.

Don’t be under the illusion that mentors have unlimited time to chat and that you’ll eventually learn something. Mentors, as established professionals, also usually have limited time––strive to make each interaction valuable. Set established goals and communicate them clearly to your mentor. Be specific and direct about the areas you want to grow in and the changes you want to make. Prioritizing your discussions according to your objectives is a great way to respect your mentor’s time.

Simultaneously, build rapport––create a relationship that’s not just about extracting wisdom, but also about mutual respect and understanding. Regular, focused meetings centered around particular topics or challenges you’re facing can foster this relationship.
Effective mentorship hinges on setting clear goals, utilizing your mentor’s time efficiently, and building a meaningful relationship. When done right, a mentor is not just a source of knowledge but also a partner in your professional growth. Make it count.

How to find a mentor

So, how do you go about finding a mentor? It’s not as daunting as it might seem. There are almost unlimited resources at your disposal, both in-person and online, to assist you in your search.

One of the most common ways to find a mentor is through your professional network. Attend industry events and engage with members of professional organizations related to your field. Networking can uncover a wealth of potential mentors you may not have considered. Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of referrals and word-of-mouth. A strong recommendation from a trusted contact can lead you to a mentor who is a great fit for your professional goals.

Similarly, leverage online platforms. LinkedIn is a fantastic resource for finding professionals in your field who may be open to a mentorship relationship. Participate in relevant discussions and reach out to individuals whose career paths or expertise align with your goals.

Additionally, consider mentorship programs in your community or workplace. Many companies, universities, and industry groups offer mentorship programs that can connect you with seasoned professionals in your field.

Regardless of how you find a potential mentor, making a positive first impression is crucial. Be respectful of their time, and make sure your request for mentorship is thoughtful and personalized. Explain why you admire their work and how you believe their guidance can help you achieve your specific goals.

Keep in mind that mentorship doesn’t have to come from a single source. It’s beneficial to have multiple mentors who can provide diverse perspectives and advice. Pursuing a ‘mentor board of directors’ can provide a well-rounded view and diverse wisdom that one person might not be able to provide. Aim for a sweet spot of 2-3 mentors whose experience will enrich your professional growth by covering various facets of your career.

Remember that many of those who are willing to mentor others have themselves been mentored in their careers. They understand the value of this type of relationship and are likely looking for opportunities to ‘pay it forward’ and contribute to the professional growth of others.

Simply put, finding a mentor requires effort and perseverance. Be proactive and resourceful, leverage your networks, and keep your goals in sight. The right mentors are out there; it’s a matter of finding them and making a connection.

Bottom line

Navigating your professional journey is a multifaceted task, where mentorship plays a crucial role. It’s the mix of guidance from your boss, wisdom from a relative, and the diverse insights from various mentors in your field that shape your growth trajectory. Establishing clear goals, building a respectful rapport, and valuing the limited time of your mentor are the vital components in making mentorship fruitful. 

Remember, the lines of mentorship don’t end at your office door or even within your family. The world is filled with potential guides, all carrying varied experiences and skills that you can tap into. And while it may seem intimidating to reach out to these seasoned professionals, keep in mind that many successful people look forward to the opportunity to guide the next generation.

Your mentorship journey is your own, but armed with these insights, you can confidently seek out the relationships that will drive your personal and professional growth.

Image by Nicole Wilcox from Unsplash.