by Yasmin Liu Johansen
I am to lucky to have wonderful mentors. Both academically and professionally, I don’t think that I could have achieved the goals that I have achieved without the support and guidance by my mentors. Today, I am myself a mentor and I see it as a privilege to help talents, entrepreneurs and leaders achieve their mission. The first mentor I had was my Danish elementary school teacher. Born in China, I came to Denmark as 8 years old with my parents. Without being able to speak a word Danish, I started in a Danish school immediately after we arrived to Denmark. It was terrifying. Some say that children are quick to learn a new language. For me, Danish was something that I struggled with for many years and my school grades reflected that. Until the last year of elementary school, when a new Danish teacher entered our classroom. That teacher took time to look at my assignments and made sure to give me feedback each time. We found a topic which I was interested in, and we worked through a project together, where I was to put together a lengthy written analysis of the topic as a graduation assignment. My teacher followed the progress and provided me with constructive criticism and encouragement along the way. I graduated that year with top grades in Danish. I accredited much of that success to my teacher and mentor. Along with more good experiences like this, I have learned that a right mentor can be extremely important for your success. In this blogpost, you can read about how you find the right mentor for you and your project.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is an experienced and trusted person, who agrees to provide you with advice, help and knowledge over a period of time, in order to help you develop and grow. Whether you need support to define your goals and direction, or if you need help to complete a specific, a mentor can be a great resource. He or she can provide the experience and knowledge that you need, or help you develop them.
Why do you need a mentor?
Today, we can find every sort of information on google. There is likely a number of Facebook group or chat forums, where we can liaison with likeminded peers with a similar interest. Is it relevant or even worthwhile to engage with a mentor?
Google is indeed a world of information, and everyone who has experienced “information overload” will know the frustration of trying to make a decision when the excess of information is overwhelming. Sometimes, the information is only applicable in given situations or even contradictory, and it becomes a really difficult task to figure out which information is the solution to your problem. A mentor who has the right experience and knowledge can help a mentee reduce information overload or facilitate the decision-making process, determining the right information to complete the task.
Moreover, a good mentor will seek to establish a relationship to you, in order to getting to know your mission and your strengths and weaknesses. A mentor becomes someone, who is deeply aware of your goals and you as a person. In many mentor-mentee relationships, the information shared is confidential, providing you an opportunity to discuss topics, which you might not share in a broader forum.
Who is the right mentor for you and your project?
The right mentor that somebody who is committed to your goals, your “partner in crime” who is providing you with inspiration, encouragement as well as knowledge and experience. Finding this person can be a gift for your business and you. However, it can also be frustrating if you and your mentor is not on the right wavelength and the conversation is not moving in the right direction. How do you help insure that you are investing in the right mentor-mentee relationship?
Finding the right mentor
According to Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorv, it takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger. When we interact with people for the first time, we also talk about whether a certain “chemistry” is there or not, an intuitive understanding of whether we interact well with another person. However, when it comes to finding the right mentor for you and your project, it is a good idea not to rely solely on your preferences, which inevitably shape your first impressions or intuition about another person. When it comes to choosing the right mentor, it is about analyzing what you need and finding the most effective person to provide that for you. Here are different types of mentors and what they offer:
Knowledge sharer and advisor
Are you looking for a solution to a specific situation? Is your project stranded on a specific subject and you are looking for specialist advice? If so, your priority should be to find a mentor who can provide expert advice on a specific area, ASAP. Here, you might look for a mentor, who is able to make their expert knowledge. Some mentors will do so in a neutral way without expectations that you should or ought to apply the knowledge, while others will advise you on how you can make that knowledge applicable.
Storyteller, friend and critic
As an inventor, you have a brilliant idea or product and you are ready to conquer the world! But in Simon Sinek’s famous talk, he reminds us that to be truly successful, the consumers need to believe in the same as you believe in, highlighting that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. How do you make your product resonate with a wide group of consumers? If you are facing challenges like this, it can be a good idea to have a storyteller and a friend by your side. Look for a mentor who understand your mission and agrees with what you are trying to achieve. He or she can help you connect with the emotions and desires of your consumers. Your mentor will continue to remind you of the bigger picture, providing perspectives, support and encouragement, when your journey is rocky and difficult. That person can also provide you with constructive criticism and feedback, when you are in risk of losing your direction.
Door opener, sponsor and networker
Seasoned inventors know how important it is to get your idea or prototype tested as soon as possible with target customers. In that case, you main priority might be to connect with a community, where you can get the necessary feedback. Here, the right mentor can be helpful, either to grant you access to the people that are looking for or creating opportunities that can open doors for you. A right mentor can also be somebody who is a skilled networker, and supporting you in define goals and strategies for networking.
Discussion partner and coach
Often, you will realize that your target customer behave differently than what you expected, or the market conditions do not match your initial assumptions. Here, you need a discussion partner, who can help challenge your assumptions. You might need their help to interpret the situation and see new ways of doing things. The right mentor is also able to ask the right questions in order to enhance the quality of your thinking, thereby helping you explore what you know and what you don’t know and need to find out.
What you can do to get the right mentor on your team
I hope that you are convinced about the value that a right mentor can provide for you and your project. However, once you have identified the right mentor for your team, how do you find that person and then convince him or her to join your team? The challenge is to reach the mentors and get them convinced to join you. Mentors are usually short on time and they are also considering whether you and your project is the right match for them.
Connecting with the right mentor
When it comes to finding the right mentor, exploring your own network is a good place to start. Is there a person from your past who can supply you with the right competences? Perhaps you know somebody on LinkedIn who works within a specific field that you are interested in, then let them know that you are looking for a mentor, and perhaps whether they would have someone in mind that would be a good match for you. You can also join mentor communities in order to search for the right mentor, though some of these platforms require a membership fee.
Preparing for the first meeting or call
Once you have found your mentor match, ask for that first meeting. Your chosen mentor might know you but not your project. Or perhaps you have chosen a mentor who knows little about you or your project. In either case, the first meeting can be intimidating, and you might be insecure about how they will perceive your request. To prepare for this call or meeting, you might want to consider the following:
- How you wish to present your project and have a prioritized list of specific tasks that you need inputs to
- What are your strengths and weaknesses and communicate upfront where you need support
- Consider your own communication style and provide inputs to what kind of mentor you are looking for (see the previous sections with the different types of mentors)
- Draft a confidentiality agreement if you find it necessary
With Innovation Drive, you have access to 40+ mentors to choose from, with different areas of expertise and experiences. Click on innovationdrive.co to explore the list of mentors.