Wimbledon 2013: Study in Mentorship
Ivan Lendl won 8 Grand Slam titles in his career, including the US Open, French Open, and Australian Open, but he never won one at Wimbledon—until Sunday. No the 53 year old wasn’t on the court playing against Novak Djokovic but his mentee, Andy Murray, was. And I can guarantee you that Ivan felt great joy and satisfaction from helping Andy complete a feat that eluded him in his playing days. There are some things that money can’t buy and Ivan Lendl’s role coaching Andy Murray to a Wimbledon title is one of them. Once a mentor’s days in the arena are over, the next most satisfying experience is to be helping someone who is still in the fight.
In the business world as it is in sports the mentor/mentee relationship is the definition of win/win. The mentor gets satisfaction and, in some cases, compensation—in the form of a return on a financial investment—and the mentee, through extension, gains the experience and confidence to achieve something he has never done before. Until Sunday it had been 77 years since an Englishman (Fred Perry) won a Wimbledon singles title.
Contemporary British tennis pros have had little chance of overcoming such a huge mental barrier, as in “it must be impossible if no one has done it in 77 years”. But you can bet it won’t be another 77 years before an Englishman hoists the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy. Why? Because Andy Murray has shown a whole generation of aspiring, young English tennis players that they too can win at Wimbledon. One of them will win Wimbledon in the next ten years. This is how mentorship works; someone who has scaled the peak that you aspire to taking the time to show you that the peak is not that high and not that hard to climb if you know the route.
Once you find an arena that you are passionate about and have developed a personal vision of prosperity within that arena, make a point to find a mentor to help you understand that you can really do it. Without one you are highly unlikely to lift the trophy of your dreams.
Finding someone who cares about you and who has achieved something close to your personal vision is hugely important. For more information on what a great mentor looks like and where you are most likely to find her check out my previous blog on the subject here.
“Lean In” Before You “Lean On” a Mentor
I listened to an HBR IdeaCast interview with Sheryl Sandberg (author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”) on the flight to visit my family for Easter. Sandberg made a lot of great points, but the one I want to focus on today is the mistake that a lot of women (as well as men) make regarding mentoring. Many young people take the cold call approach and just ask an accomplished leader with whom they have little or no relationship to be their mentor. Unfortunately effective mentorships rarely begin that way.
The most beneficial mentorships occur between two people who have invested time in the process of coming to know, respect, and care about each other. Why? It’s difficult to be a good mentor to someone you haven’t taken the time to get to know. The mentor has to care enough to dedicate precious time to mentoring activities, and that won’t happen until the mentor as come to know and respect the mentee. From the mentee’s perspective, it takes time before you feel comfortable entrusting your hopes and dreams with someone you haven’t already come to know and respect. That’s why the most natural mentorships aren’t arranged marriages but are relationships that begin as something else and evolve into a mentorship over time.
Where Should You Look for a Mentor?
Prime candidates for mentors are former bosses, teachers, or, in the best case, a family friend. Mentorships like these are extremely powerful. Mentors have the opportunity to combine their personal relationships with a mentee with a core competence in their area of interest. The mentorship builds on an existing foundation of mutual respect and, from there, forges ahead into the fun stuff—the discussion of what the mentee wants to achieve and the shortest path to realizing it, based on the mentor’s experience.
If you are fortunate enough to know someone who has succeeded in the same space that you are targeting, you’re already a step ahead. If not, make a list of the accomplished people that you already have a relationship with who are successful in a space that is at least in the same ballpark as your area of passion. You will be amazed at the similarity of the advice you will get from this person and someone who has succeeded in exactly the market space you are targeting. It’s more important that they know and like you than it is for them to have done exactly what you plan to do.
My Best Mentor? My Dad!
I was fortunate to have a dad who had experience with businesses of all shapes and sizes, and even more fortunate that he was a numbers guy. He grilled me for business plans and financial projections, and those projections killed a lot of ideas that sounded pretty good in my head but would have led me down a disastrous path. While he wasn’t an entrepreneur, he believed that being an entrepreneur was the surest path to the prosperity I wanted. And he told me the single most valuable piece of advice that anyone has ever given me: It didn’t matter much where I started my entrepreneurial journey. He was confident that over time I would be able to direct my path toward what I wanted. The important mindset was to get in the game. He gave me the confidence to pull the trigger.
Whether your vision is to become a leader within a large corporation or the chief executive of your own start-up, one of the toughest hurdles you face is the need to believe you can actually do it. Most of us sell ourselves short and don’t aim high enough. An experienced mentor can take the pie-in-the-sky vision that you are hesitant to even say out loud and, through experience and personal example, lead you to the point where you can see yourself making it happen.
There is a chart in my book called “Attributes of a Great Mentor” that gives more details on what you should look for in a mentor. Write me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy of the chart!