Choosing a Mentor

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Dr. Earl R. Smith II
DrSmith@Dr-Smith.com
Dr-Smith.com

(Read More From My Blog)

When you find yourself struggling with a challenge you often turn to someone you perceive as being able to give you the advice you need. This is true in business as well as personal life. Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders are not immune to needing to seek out experienced advisers. Challenges may be the need to develop a new business strategy, new leadership styles, leadership development, improving corporate finance growth or even prepping for a critical meeting. This is when I generally come in as a mentor.

One of my first steps is to assess the situation – a kind of triage that will tell us what the immediate issues are and how we can best approach generating solutions to them. Often times a potential client has developed a form of blinders that hinder them seeing a simple and efficient method of dealing with a problem. At other times, they need to grow personally and professionally in order to deal with the increasing complexity brought on by their own success. Is it my job to help clients lift the blinders, make the leap forward – develop and implement a plan of action that will meet and master the challenges that they are facing.

As a mentor, I often work with my clients on leadership development. Sometimes I feel like an artist molding a clay pot. The correct amount of pressure helps create a fine work of art, but the incorrect method will cave it in and make for more work. Nevertheless, I always remember that change comes primarily through the efforts of the client – I am only an experienced guide. Many mentors miss this reality and assume an imperious attitude towards clients. I am always amazed at what mine accomplish and humbled to have played my role in helping them achieve it.

One of my first contributions to any mentoring engagement is the assessment of the situation. By performing a leadership assessment, I develop the data that helps us to plan a strategy – to frame the coaching engagement – to develop a plan of action that draws on the client’s strengths and bolsters their weak points to become.

Here are some thoughts on how I approach mentoring engagements:

  • Examining the talents and strength of a team and corporate context, CEO, Chairman, HR department and the culture or work ethics of those involved – team is only as good as its leaders, and it is not only fair to put some of the blame on those that are leading and not just on those that are under you
  • A mentoring engagement lasts until the mentor and client agree that its objectives have been met – as a mentor, I help my clients find the problems in the current leadership styles and how to improve them from the top down – I like to celebrate victory as much as the next person – and endings of engagements are causes for celebrations
  • Most often, when I am approached by a potential client looking for coaching support it indicates that their company, its leadership or they themselves have realized there is an issue and they are trying to improve team performance and the individual performance of the team members – an executive after learning these new skills from the coach will then take the next step to becoming a better leader

Here are six things that I think a mentor must posses to guarantee success are:

Unshakable Confidence Based Solidly on Deep Experience: A mentor should have a personal belief of success, a cheerful approach to problem solving and deep rooted personal confidence – have all the skills and knowledge that will be needed to be passed on – belief and confidence alone is not enough – without the experience, a mentor is simply an consultant who has never done what they are purporting to teach you

Steady Optimism: Without this skill, a leader is finished before they start any project. An effective mentor must have a steady, stable approach to even the most difficult crisis. One of the most important things I teach my clients is to maintain that steady and quiet mindset in the face of challenges. It is pure Zen – and it works. I have seen mentors charging around, changing course, modifying recommendations and generally churning up the waters. The most remarkable thing about them is that they generate a lot of heat but almost no progress. I teach my clients how to approach their challenges with this steady optimism – and it has made tremendous differences in many of their lives.

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