Do You Have a Mentor?

I have a brother who was a senior lawyer and managing partner at a Canadian law firm.  A few years before his retirement, he mentioned that he had a coach and a mentor.  The coach I understood.  A great idea for many.  But a mentor? 

What is the difference between a coach and a mentor and why should I care?

From an article published in February, 2016 by Small Business Trends entitled “What is the Difference Between a Mentor and Coach?”…

“Mentoring is a long-term process based on mutual trust and respect. Coaching, on the other hand, is for a short period of time. Mentoring is more focused on creating an informal association between the mentor and mentee, whereas coaching follows a more structured and formal approach.”

I have heard others suggest that coaches teach and mentors guide, that coaching is, most often, a one-way relationship while mentoring is a two way relationship.

I have had a coach and I have mentors.  Note the singular and multiple reference and timing.  If you are referring to one part of your life, personal OR professional, you can only have one coach.  I had a professional coach for 2-3 years awhile back. I consider two people in my life, right now, to be my mentors.  This is a very different relationship. My mentors provide advice, serve as a ‘sounding board’ and sometimes, they are that difficult conversation to get me back on track.

Why should you care?  Because, in my mind, a mentor is a critical relationship and one that can mean the difference between success and failure.

There is a web site out there called MentorCity.  It suggests “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction. A mentor can help to shorten your learning curve, open your mind to new ideas and possibilities and identify opportunities. “

Nice.   So how do I get one?

The Global and Mail newspaper produced an article recently called “Five steps to find your mentor in an age of virtual networking” by Dave Wilkin.  Mr. Wilkin is well positioned to write on this subject: is the founder of – an award-winning virtual mentoring and career development technology.  

Whether in the virtual networking age or the (I hope we get back there soon) face-to-face networking stage, finding a good mentor is not easy but, done right, can be extremely rewarding.

Mr. Wilkin lays out his five steps:

  • Introspection – Know yourself well. Know your strengths and weaknesses, your gaps and special talents.
  • Exploration – Look around far and wide – not reaching out yet – but exploring for likely candidates.
  • Research – Know your candidate’s business and markets.
  • Building your Network – Reach out to your candidates – getting a feel for their acceptance of the potential relationship and the structure you have in mind (casual or more formal).
  • Repeat as necessary – this is an ongoing process, Mr. Wilkins suggests. Be ready to cycle through a few times before you land the right person.

When you start approaching potential candidates for a mentor relationship, be careful about the ‘ask’. Go light on time commitment.  If you hit a potential candidate with regular, 2-hour meetings, it will not happen.  If you ask for small chunks of time, it will work.  How about a monthly 45-minute coffee to start?  If your mentor becomes more interested in your work or job or business, they may suggest more frequent meetings. But once a month for 45 minutes is not a big ask.

Yes, a mentor relationship in our professional lives is a great idea. Do you have one?



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