I recently sat down with Jason Santiago, an owner of several fitness studios across Sydney and he told me his secret to finding a great mentor. What amazed me was that it’s the same approach I use, but I had never heard anyone else using this tactic to secure a mentoring relationship that is truly worthwhile. It’s so simple, and yet so few people engage it.

The secret is, a great mentoring relationship should be beneficial for both parties and you need to figure out what you can offer your mentor in return for their mentorship. You will always have something to offer if you cultivate a relationship based on trust, respect and honesty.

So how do we build a great relationship with our mentors?

The secret to a great relationship with our mentors – a mutually beneficial approach

If you want a mentor who is going to give their time and expertise to help you then you need to consider what time and expertise you can give to them. What do they need?

Let me go back to my conversation with Jason, because he gave me great example of how to do this.

Jason was looking to open a new gym under the OrangeTheory franchise. The brand was already very successful in the US and Jason and his business partner were looking to open up some of the first studios in Sydney. This offered an exciting but daunting prospect for several reasons. The first was that it required a significant financial investment. Secondly, with the growth strategy they had planned, they would need to figure out how to manage teams of staff at each of their studios efficiently and effectively, whilst also investing time in the opening of new studios so t heir time would be stretched between these various priorities. Finally he needed to understand how to manage stress in high pressure situations.

Jason was in a fortunate position because he was working as a personal trainer and had one on one time with a range of people with a wide range of areas of expertise. During his sessions with clients he invested the time to get to know more about them as individuals, not just their health and fitness goals. He built rapport, trust and respect.

As it became apparent that Jason needed to step up and out of his comfort zone, he realised he needed further advice and guidance. He needed some mentors. He realised that three of his clients had told him about their professional roles and he wanted to ask them more because they seemed to have good strategies for how to manage their type of work. He told me “I didn’t seek out mentors for their roles; I just spoke to them as people and valued their opinions.”

Now instead of just asking these people for guidance whenever he had a session with them, he offered free personal training sessions in return for their support. He wanted to show that he valued their advice and he was prepared to invest his time and expertise into them.

Right now you’re probably thinking, that’s all well and good for him as a self-employed PT with access to a network of people, but what can I offer someone else? The people I want as mentors don’t necessarily want what I have to offer.

(Re)framing your ideas on mentoring

This is where I am going to tell you the four things that will change your perspective on mentoring relationships

  1. It feels good for both people when you have a relationship that evokes positive feelings. Neuroscience tells us that when we interact with other people, we mirror each other’s emotions. As an example, if I am talking to someone and I feel am happy and I smile, they too will smile (even if it’s only a slight twitch of the facial muscles) and in turn, their body will send a message to their brain saying, “hey you are smiling, you feel happy” and so their body will release the chemicals that make them “feel” happy. So, if you have a meeting with a mentor and you walk away feeling positive, challenged, respected and listened to, chances are your mentor will have those same feelings.
  2. You might be looking for mentors in the wrong place. You need to think laterally about where to find someone who can guide and support you. We tend to just look up, to people in more senior roles in the same or a similar industry as mentors. Consider reframing the challenges that you are facing so that you can look around to other people in your network for advice.
  3. You are connected to hundreds of people, you just need to cultivate these relationships more to find out what other people’s experience and expertise is. Think of the person who runs your local café, someone you see regularly at the gym, your friend’s friend who you see out all the time but you know little about them. Every single one of these people has had their own unique experiences from life that could perhaps provide guidance to you.
  4. Finally you are interesting and unique with a skill set, knowledge or resources that are of value. You just need to figure out what it is and connect with the right people who respect and value what you have to offer.

Not everyone has a mentor, but I believe most people would benefit from one; it can just be hard to know who and what to ask of a mentor. At the Frontline management Institute (FMI), we’ve recently enhanced our management development program participants’ workplace application projects to help them seek out and maintain a relationship with a mentor. The impact these projects have on people’s performance is significant and both the learner and the mentor benefit from the experience.

Positive relationships enrich our lives, so why not add some mentors into your network!

Ruby Lucas

Director at Frontline Management Institute
Ruby designs meaningful, practical and useful education tools and experiences that give people the skills they need to get on with doing the work they love in a more efficient, effective and empowering way.

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