I generally don't use the word "mentor."
Mentors and mentorships have become a "thing." People talk about these relationships as something that's given or received. They treat mentorships almost like a stepping stone to success rather than a true relationship.
While I'm not big on the term "mentor," I do think entrepreneurs need people to reach out to. In my mind, every entrepreneur should have a personal board of advisers--a diverse group of people they can rely on and seek advice from in different situations.
But dispensing advice shouldn't be the only purpose of your personal board. Your board should be built around a mutual give-and-take, and consist of people you enjoy spending time with.
Here's who should be a part of it:
1. Your Circle of Friends
Everyone needs a circle of friends to rely on, and the best friendships are those that develop organically.
After I graduated college, I was working as an investment banking analyst in New York. My manager was another young woman, Lisa, in her late 20s.
After a while, it became pretty apparent that we enjoyed hanging out. We had a lot of similar personality traits, and we eventually ended up becoming good friends. She wrote one of my recommendations for business school and helped me make some big decisions in my career and personal life.
The interesting thing about relationships is that the dynamic changes over the years. For example, I'm still good friends with Lisa--but now she isn't the only one giving advice. Sometimes, I'm the one dispensing it. She came to see me once when she was thinking about taking on a role as a CFO at a startup in New York. She asked me about negotiating for equity, assessing the viability of the company, and other startup-related questions.
That's why a true relationship is not just one person giving and another person taking.
One person might have more experience at a certain point in time, so they're the one giving out advice. Other times, you're the one with more experience. That's how a circle of friends evolves and stays strong.
2. Professional Contacts
When starting your career as a young professional, your job is fairly narrow. There are tons of people out there who do what you do. Even when I was at Google, there were plenty of people in the marketing department that I could grab lunch with and get advice from.
When you become a founder, you realize that you have to do everything, but you don't know how to do most of it. At that point, the best resource is other founders--people who are in the same boat as you, or who've gone through the process before.
You end up asking questions like, "OK, I'm going to set up performance reviews. How did you all think about it?"
It's a very tactical approach, but, in many ways, that type of advice is what you want as an entrepreneur.
This connection with other founders is a proven key to your success. A study performed by TechCrunch found that "33 percent of founders who are mentored by successful entrepreneurs went on to become top performers."
Personally, I find the Young Presidents Organization to be a great resource. YPO is a group of CEOs and founders under the age of 50. The organization is broken up into forums of about 10 people, and each forum gets together once a month so everyone can give each other an update on what's going on. Everything discussed at the meetings is completely confidential. And lately, it's been an amazing way to talk with a group of people about both personal and professional issues.
Your professional contacts are not your friends from college, and they are not people 30 years your senior. But they are another part of your board of advisers, and they should ideally be both mutually chosen and diverse.
3. Traditional Advisers
A lot of people look for advisers outside of their work environment. I think that's great. It's awesome to have contacts who aren't the people you work for.
But the traditional advisers, the people who you might actually call "mentors," are usually past bosses. These are the type of people who are going to give you job references, share career advice, and help you get into schools. You've worked with these advisers and you respect them.
I would say that every single one of my bosses since graduating college is, in some way, a mentor. It's not that I'm constantly reaching out and asking for their advice, but I have learned a lot from them. I still see them sporadically and try to catch up when I can.
The big thing to remember about all of these relationships is that they are relationships. They should be beneficial to everyone involved. The best relationships I've seen between senior leaders and junior members of a team were those that developed organically. It wasn't a transactional thing.
And your relationships ebb and flow as an entrepreneur. You won't always be as close to someone as you are now. Just make sure that you have a network of people you can count on for advice when you need it.
Because no one ever said, "I have too many great people I can reach out to for help."