By Drew Gurley of the Young Entrepreneurs Council
I once heard a colleague say: “You don’t look for a mentor, you strive to become one yourself.” The logic is flawless; however, proper guidance and wisdom from a trusted friend can speed you through the process. Just having an outside opinion on something you’ve been racking your brain on can offer the perspective needed to make a tough decision.
Leadership is a trait shared by most great entrepreneurs, but the man (or woman) behind the curtain is often what helped them achieve success. A mentor offers guidance, support and authenticity when it’s needed, and are ready to provide a stern dose of reality. In short, a mentor is someone you can turn to in times of need and rely on to be honest even when you don’t want to hear it.
They’re a necessity for any budding entrepreneur, and a good mentor can shave years off the learning curve as well as prove crucial for success or failure. You should indeed seek to become a mentor, but first you need to find a good mentor yourself.
Finding a mentor
We sometimes get caught up in looking for mentors. While finding one is great, we often end up in these relationships by chance. Call it serendipity, but the best mentor/protégée relationships are often cultivated by accident rather than sought.
One of my mentors, for example, didn’t come out of my own industry at all. Instead, I met him while volunteering for a fire department in college and we hit it off immediately through common interests. In the following years, he taught me about business and life, and provided a sounding board when I had problems that I needed outside advice to solve. I had no intention of seeking out a mentor and was lucky that this opportunity fell into my lap.
Since then, I’ve made it a point to learn all I can about my own mentor, all while attempting to better cultivate relationships with people I can help. I don’t seek these people out, but I’ve still managed to see them everywhere: coffee shops, networking events, the airport. A simple conversation with a random person is all it takes to learn about the challenges they face, and you’d be surprised at how often you can provide the solution — or at least help them navigate the right direction.
These relationships aren’t built in an office. It’s about finding a person you connect with and cultivating a real, meaningful relationship.
Forging a connection
When we think of mentor/protégé relationships, we view them as binary examples of human interaction. However, it’s more of an understanding between two people that you are there to learn and they are there to teach, share and challenge you.
In short, you don’t find a mentor by asking someone to be your mentor. You find a mentor by cultivating a relationship with someone while making it clear that you respect who they are, what they’ve done, and that you’re attempting to soak it all in like a sponge. It’s about the connection.
Just remember, the right mentor could come from anywhere, so look outside of your perceived norm and step outside of your box in order to find someone that you connect with, no matter where that source of inspiration comes from.
A perfect example is Tai Lopez and Joel Salatin. Salatin is a farmer, public speaker and published author. Lopez is a successful entrepreneur far removed from the farming lifestyle. While their backgrounds are different, the relationship clicked. Lopez gleaned wisdom from his mentor’s metaphoric musings about food, farming and what’s involved in a meaningful day’s work. Lopez absorbed these teachings and found ways to involve them in his own work. It’s an odd pairing, but it works.
My own case is similar. Without running into one of my first mentors, I probably wouldn’t have learned how SEO could help my insurance business, or how buying Facebook ads could turn into a great lead generation opportunity. Internet marketing wasn’t an interest of mine, but through an accidental relationship, I learned all I could from a mentor willing to help.
If I didn’t approach these chance encounters with an open mind, who knows where I’d be today. Sometimes relationships outside of your bubble can be the most beneficial. These odd relationships give you a perspective you wouldn’t have found with a mentor in your own circle. Reach outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to gather wisdom from places that might seem a bit unconventional.
This article, entitled “The key to cultivating lasting business relationships” was originally published on e27.
Drew Gurley is an established executive in the financial services arena and co-founder of Redbird Advisors. The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organisation comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs.