I seem to be spending increasing amounts of my spare time helping others in business to see the wood for the trees, in between developing my own specialist profiling business Animus Scisco, and running my own independent non-executive director and business advice service. From time to time I look up from my screen, take a breath and realise that I tend to neglect my own needs. I’m not alone, I know many other business leaders who do exactly the same!

I sometimes lose sight of how important it is to have a mentor or even just a sounding board, who is totally independent of the daily noise of battle you are constantly dealing with in your business. I do a fair amount of giving advice on a pro-bono basis, although I would argue I still get payment for my time and effort, just not traditional cash. Often my payment is information, new knowledge, stronger or new relationships and the buzz of knowing I have helped someone.

Just because I offer advice to businesses and just because I have the experience and knowledge to be a professional non-executive director does not mean that like most business people I also need someone to lean on from time to time. Someone who can offer a valuable outside and independent view. Someone that is willing to tell me what I need to know rather than what I want to hear. When it comes to picking your mentor, don’t go for the easy win that feeds your ego. There is no room for ‘yes men’ when it comes to mentoring. What you need is someone you can trust to be candid and have those sometimes difficult conversations.

There are many occasions in my business life where I have needed the guidance of others and I have to say my connections I consider to be my mentors, do a great job for me. I was talking to a new connection earlier this week and they asked me a really good question and so I decided to write this blog entry about it; the question I was asked was:

“How do I choose a mentor, who I know is going to give me value?”

With that question in mind I decided to write my top tips for finding a mentor who provides value:

  • They need to be an expert – Your mentor needs to be an expert, not because they say they are. Their expertise needs to be visible to you, demonstrable. Check out their expertise by basic research and talking to others in their network.
  • Relevant Experience – Your mentor needs to have relevant experience in the areas of interest to you and areas of need you have identified.
  • Recent Experience – Your mentor need to have the right experience, that is a given, but it also needs to be recent. The more recent the greater value to you.
  • You need to like and be liked – I understand that building enduring relationships can take time. However key to success is the fundamental issue of you liking them and they liking you. Key to this is sharing core values.
  • Prime motivation – In my view there is nothing wrong in earning money from mentoring but be wary. Find a mentor who does it primarily because of the buzz of helping, not because of the money alone. Look for evidence before you commit.

These are not just words these tips are the rules I use when selecting my most valuable mentors, all of whom I now consider friends too. So do yourself a good turn and make sure you find some mentors to help you on your journey, reach out to them and follow the above tips, when selecting them.

All that is left for me to say is good hunting, choose with care and you’re always welcome to have a confidential chat with me. ¬†Also thank you to my own mentors, I don’t need to mention their names, you all know who you are.