The Sunday Mail
Dr Proctor Nyemba
In a recent article, I talked about the importance of building relationships to find work on a board and further your director career. While this is a huge topic that I would like to continue expanding on in future articles, in this piece, I am going to focus on a very special relationship that you need to have if you want to fast-track your route to a board role.
Most people are aware of the importance of having a mentor in business. In fact, in one of our programmes at Future Corporate Directors, we ask the question: Who has a mentor? Typically, around 70 percent of people raise their hand. However, this does not mean that finding and having a mentor is a clear-cut process. Many people often struggle with knowing what type of mentor they need and how to go about getting one.
In this article, I am going to explain the importance of having a mentor when building a career as a corporate director, the steps you need to go through to find the perfect mentor for you and pitfalls to avoid along the way.
Why have a mentor?
What a lot of people do not realise is that there are a number of different mentors that you can have. They come in all shapes and sizes, and can help you in your career, around leadership and, indeed, in your journey towards boardroom success.
Of course, a board mentor is a great way of building a network of connections. Your mentor can help you advance by putting you in contact with influential figures. However, a mentor can and should provide so much more than that.
Ideally, your board mentor will be someone with experience in the roles that you want to be entering into, and so, should be able to offer practical advice and guidance on steps you need to take. But more than that, a great mentor will provide you with emotional and motivational support. They are someone who has been round the block, experienced the highs and lows, and can talk you through the more difficult obstacles you are bound to come up against.
What stops people going out
and finding a mentor?
The biggest block that people often face when considering whether to go out and find a mentor is self-doubt. People become riddled with questions about the value that they have to offer. They tell themselves that they do not deserve to have a mentor or have not achieved enough to begin approaching potential mentors.
This is never the right attitude in any line of business, particularly when you are looking to build an important relationship.
The reality is, if you have purpose and can articulate that purpose, then someone will want to support you.
If you are experiencing problems with self-doubt when approaching potential mentors, then figure out what it is that you stand for and go about looking for someone senior to you who shares similar values.
As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of different types of mentors, and the relationship does not necessarily have to be an official one.
Of course, sometimes mentorships are set up through your company or another organisation, but at other times, they can simply be someone whom you casually ask for advice from time to time. The type of mentor you want to seek out depends largely on your situation.
The simplest and most straightforward way to begin looking for a board mentor is by starting with your immediate network. Have a think about your senior peers and assess who might be in the best position to guide you forward.
Alternatively, if you are a little more courageous, there is no reason why you cannot approach someone outside of your network. Of course, this is a far more high-risk strategy so do not be offended if the person you approach says no. The most important thing to remember is that it is your responsibility to do the groundwork and begin the search for the ideal boardroom mentor for you.
Mistakes that “mentees”
Not going out and approaching potential mentors because of anxiety or self-doubt is the number one mistake that people in need of a mentor make. However, even once you have found a mentor, it is still your responsibility to be the proactive party in the relationship. Do not forget, your mentor may have several other mentees beside you, so it is important that you reach out to them with questions and concerns that you might have. Remember to keep your mentor in the loop with your progress, and follow through on any connections, referrals or general advice they offer you.
That said, it is important not to treat your mentor’s advice as gospel. They are humans, too and not infallible. You are not obliged to execute their suggestions, so, if something they say does not sit right with you, then seriously consider whether it is the right course of action.
With this in mind, it can be useful to have more than one mentor to float different ideas around and gather second opinions on what you need to be doing to advance your boardroom career.
Knowing when to ask the right questions and use your intuition are important qualities for a board member to have, so you should not be afraid to exercise these traits across all areas of your boardroom journey . . . even with your mentor. Unfortunately, there is no perfect methodology to follow when it comes to looking for a mentor. More often than not, the chief ingredient is luck.
However, this is not to say that you cannot make your own luck. By working hard, doing your research, articulating your values and purpose, and building the right relationships, you are sure to drastically improve your chances of finding the perfect mentor to help fast-track your route to boardroom success.
Dr Proctor Nyemba helps board members and executives understand their role in governance so they can succeed in the boardroom. For comments and feedback, please send to [email protected] Call 0772469893.