Only the foolish venture forward, without having a mentor supporting them, from behind the scenes. A mentor is normally someone older than you, wiser, with more grey hair, who knows something about what you are doing. In other words, it could be a retired CEO of the business, a retired board member who has known you for a while, a professional mentor, or someone in the sector where this is no conflict of interest.

A good mentor will save your career several times. With the advent of email, a career – limiting event is only a click away by pressing the send button.. The mentor is someone whom you ask, “Please look at this? I am thinking of copying in the CEO.” To which the mentor replies, “Let’s have a coffee first before it is sent,” after which, when asked about the email, you reply, “What email?”

Mentors are also well connected and often will further your career during discussions with their peers. They often receive, as payment, only the occasional good meal, while others will do it for a living. When looking for a mentor, start at the top and work down. Even the most successful people are happy to mentor up – and – coming younger guns. Asking someone to become your mentor is one of the largest compliments you can give.

Finding and using a mentor

In business, many costly failures could have been averted if advice had been sought from a trusted and wise mentor.  The key is the selection (and use) of your mentor/adviser and realizing that just because you have asked once, this does not preclude a second or third request for help.

As many writers have pointed out, including the legendary leader Jack Welch, you will seldom find all your help in one mentor. It is far better to find a series of mentors who can help you with different decisions. Whilst organisations need to get behind mentorship programmes, it is important that there is a real chemistry behind the mentor and the “mentoree”.

Four types of Mentor

In a very readable book Mick Ukleja and Robert Lorber[i] have talked about four different types of mentors.

Upward Mentors: These are the people to whom you admire. They have helped and are still helping you become who you are. They can be a parent, grandparent, coach, author, pastor, rabbi, or boss. They may be someone you have yet to meet.

Friendship Mentors: These are the people with whom you experience life. You have gone through various stages with them—college, career, or family and work life. They are your peers and you’ve learned from them in a mutually giving way.

Sandpaper Mentors: You don’t have to look for them; they always find you! These are people who rub you the wrong way, as they see the world in a totally different way to you. Don’t reject all that they say simply because they are critical or cranky. In reality they can help you—if you are observant, open and non-defensive.

Downward Mentors: These are the people in whom you are investing time to help them progress. They may be younger than you, but not necessarily. When you invest in others in a giving relationship, you learn a lot about yourself. You experience what’s important to you and what should be emphasized and reinforced in your own professional and personal life.

I subscribe to Ukleja’s and Lorber’s views, thus ensuring you have mentors covering these characteristics which will aid you on your journey. I recommend you find a mentor and seek advice on those major decisions—you will notice the difference in your expeditions.


Mentor checklist.  Does the proposed mentor  
1.   Understands the sector you are in o Yes   o No
2.   Has reached a senior position, not necessarily a CEO o Yes   o No
3.   Has had a broad career experience o Yes   o No
4.   Has a quick and incisive mind o Yes   o No
5.   A person you look up to and respect o Yes   o No
6.   Normally significantly older than you o Yes   o No
7.   Has useful contacts o Yes   o No
8.   Is well respected by others o Yes   o No
9.   Is well read o Yes   o No
10.Is patient and tolerant o Yes   o No
11.Sees their role as mentor as important and thus commits to making meeting dates o Yes   o No

(you need to find someone who scores over 6)



[i] Mick Ukleja and Robert Lorber, “Who Are You and What Do You Want?” ,Perigee, 2009.




This is an extract from a book called ‘Don’t say I didn’t tell you’.

The past has great lessons to offer. Whilst technology and the evolving pace of change may lead millennials to thinking that what is ahead of them is unique. In fact, it has all happened before. I am a father in my 60s who has gathered many lessons from the past, and I set them out here for my daughters in the vain hope that they will be a guiding light long after I am physically gone. Some of the suggestions may seem ridiculous at first, but I ask you to chew the crud and make an informed decision later. For a list of topics covered see here.