Every once and a while, we all need a little help. Maybe not everyday. Maybe not even once a year but at some point, we will rise to our highest level of incompetence. The best way to deal with this scenario is to develop a network of teachers, mentors and coaches that can assist you in the challenges you may face. This network will provide the underlying support structure that will get you through your career and life challenges.
The Differences Between Teachers, Mentors and Coaches
Throughout your life, you will encounter many different people that will either teach, mentor or coach you. Even the most negative interactions or caustic relationship will impart some knowledge, skill or attitude. Part of seeking out teachers, mentors and coaches is to figure out which one you need. For the purposes of this post, lets define the three as follows:
Teachers: Have the ability to impart knowledge and skills that you lack. Teachers are typically experts in a particular field or were trained to teach a certain skill. The relationship between you and a teacher tends to be more subservient since you are not technically at the same level of skill.
Mentors: Once you obtain the skills, then mastery of those skills is next. A mentor imparts wisdom of experience and guides you down a path that allows you to master the skills required for success. Mentors can be teachers but they generally don’t teach you the basic skills.
Coaches: Mastery is not enough for success and that is where a coach comes in. A coach molds talent, skill and mastery into success by understanding the uniqueness of the individual and how to maximize their performance. Good coaches can teach and even mentor but the these tasks are secondary to optimizing their players performance.
It’s important to realize that some people can switch between all three depending on the situation or topic. What one person may be able to teach, they may not be able to mentor in. This stems from the fact that the skill sets required vary over all three.
Step 1: Self Assessment
The first step in finding a teacher, mentor or coach is to figure out what you need to work on. Performing a self assessment will allow you to focus on those key areas. Consider this method to perform your own self assessment.
Write down your strengths: Use as many descriptive words as possible. The more specific, the better.
Write down your weaknesses: These should be weaknesses that can be changed not things you were born with (e.g. Like I am too short)
Write down the type of person you need for each weakness: Some weaknesses are better suited for certain types of advisors. If you need to learn a skill, then that’s a teacher. If you need to perfect a skill, then that’s a mentor. If you need to optimum performance, then that’s a coach.
Pick three weaknesses you want to work on: These three weaknesses should ideally be ones that can be fixed in a short period of time. The reason being that if you are just starting out, you want to get some quick wins to build your confidence. Rank these three weakness in order and then start down the path to working on them.
Tip: Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have weaknesses. Being overly negative will just demotivate you from wanting to improve.
Step 2: Scour Your Personal Contacts
A great way to find teachers, mentors and coaches is to go through your prime advisor pool — your friends, colleagues and business associates. Even if you don’t have any obvious candidates, the process will allow you to figure out potential people to talk to for help. Personal contacts are also great for referrals to others that could help you. Being referred by a friend of a friend is also a great way to build rapport with a potential teacher, mentor or coach.
Tip: You may not find the perfect fit during your personal contact search but that’s fine. The people you do find will have valuable insights as to how you can find others to teach, mentor or coach you.
Step 3: Get Out There
One of the most important sources of teachers, mentors and coaches is getting out in the world and interacting. Attend seminars, go to trades hows, sign up for a class. All of these things will expose you to potential people that will make great teachers, mentors or coaches. Getting out there will also provide valuable insights into who is respected in your field and who is sought out for advice. Knowing this will allow you to narrow your search.
Tip: It can sometimes be a little scary approaching people at a conference or seminar. To overcome this fear, have at least 2 things you can talk about that are unrelated to the conference or talk. That way, you can switch between conference talk and different topics easily.
Step 4: Get to Know Your Potential Teacher, Mentor or Coach
This step is a critical part of the relationship you want to build. Helping you will take some time commitment and it’s best to understand how much time a potential teach, mentor or coach will have for you. Also, it’s important that you actually get along with your potential advisor or the experience will be miserable. I know that seems obvious but some people jump right in because of the stature of the advisor. Another way to approach this is to figure out if there is something that you can teach, mentor or coach your potential advisor. That way, you both get more out of the relationship.
Tip: Get to know your potential advisor in a non-advisor role first. Preferably, in a social situation where you can chat about other things and see how your personalities match up.
Step 5: Give it a Trail Run
Most of the time, advisor roles are informal. This is the best way to get started because it reduces the level of anxiety on both sides. Initially approaching a teaching, mentoring or coaching relationship in this way will allow you to see if your instincts from your social interactions translate during your teaching, mentoring or coaching sessions.
Tip: Don’t be discouraged if your trial run does not work out. Sometimes, circumstances just don’t line up. Keep looking.
Step 6: Teach, Mentor or Coach Others
The benefits of teaching, mentoring or coaching goes beyond the student. The advisor can derive a lot of value from taking on these roles. When you teach, mentor or coach, you learn an awful lot of useful techniques. Teaching someone a subject requires mastery of the subject and there is no better way to master something than to teach it. When you mentor someone, your world view expands. No longer are you looking at situations from your perspective but from your mentee. Doing this allows you to see opportunities that might be hidden. Coaching is a great way to hone your leadership skills and understand how different types of people achieve success.
Tip: Anyone can be a teacher, mentor or coach. Put yourself out there and help people. When you do this, you attract people that want to help you as well.
Where to Find Teachers, Mentors or Coaches
Teachers, mentors and coaches are everywhere. Some are professional while others are just normal everyday people doing their jobs. Seeking out these advisors requires some diligence and patience. Consider the following places to hunt for teachers, mentors or coaches:
Volunteer Organizations: People who volunteer naturally want to help others. It’s best to volunteer yourself and get to know a potential advisor.
Meet-Ups: There are lots of special interest groups that get together to chat about all sorts of topics. If one of your weaknesses, is say, public speaking, then seeking out people who like to speak in public is a great way to improve that weakness.
On-Line Communities: The Internet has a wealth of resources that are simple to access and get involved. One great example for Startups is http://answers.onstartups.com. This community has all sorts of advisors that are eager to answer questions and help out.
Seminars: Lots of people attend seminars to mingle and gain some knowledge. These venues naturally attract people who want to better themselves and understand the benefits of teachers, mentors and coaches.
Educational Institutions: A formal education is a great way to learn new skills and get to know other students, that one day, may be good advisor candidates.
Friends and Friends of Friends: Most of us use our friends as informal advisors. These relationships are natural places to find teachers, mentors and coaches. You do need to be a little careful since sometimes friends don’t make good advisors.
Work Colleagues: Your work place is a great place to seek out advisors that can help you. In fact, some companies have formal mentor programs to improve their employees. It’s best to seek out teachers, mentors or coaches that are not in your direct chain of command since you may need advice on how to deal with touchy subjects that may be directly related to your group.
Learn, Grow and Give Back
The magic of teachers, mentors and coaches is that they impart knowledge, skill and wisdom that comes from experience. Part of the power of these types of advisors is that their rich experiences are far more valuable than anything you read in a book. When advisors take the time to share their knowledge it creates a renewable resource that every student should pass along by teaching, mentoring or coaching.