Here at Future Directors, we’re big on the benefits of strong relationships, and the importance of aspiring (and existing) non-executive directors both having, and being, board mentors. Meeting and getting advice from as many directors as possible can be priceless, especially when you’re just starting out. But for a new director, finding one board mentor is hard enough – let alone a whole network of them.
Luckily, helping you build mutually beneficial relationships is one of the things we do best, so read on to find out how you can get yourself a network of director mentors.
1) Find your focus area
The first thing you need to do is know what you’re aiming for, as this will help you narrow down your focus area of potential mentors. To find your focus area, think about where your passions and interests lie. What makes you tick? What change do you wish to see, and how might you help make that happen?
When you’ve figured it out, you can start searching for potential mentors. LinkedIn can be immensely helpful for you here, so jump online, take a look at some of your connections and introduce yourself!
If you are struggling to figure out what you care about, talk to people that know you.
2) Get to the front of the queue
Once you’ve found your focus area and have figured out a selection of intelligent individuals you think might be able to assist you on your leadership journey, you have to figure out how to get to the front of their queue. Their time is likely to be in high demand.
There are plenty of ways you can do this, but the most effective way to reach someone is through the classic handwritten letter. We know, it might seem odd to choose snail mail over the wide array of instant messaging systems available, but it’s the most authentic. Letter writing is an art that takes dedication and respect, and for those ‘in demand’ board members, it’s the best way to make a lasting impression.
Who doesn’t open their physical mail, especially something handwritten…?!
3) Know how to present yourself
This is the real trick behind building a network. Knowing how to best express and present yourself to those you wish to work with is imperative to building solid, long-term relationships. To do this, you need to be aware of everything from your unique value proposition, passions and your values to what it is you’re trying to achieve through a board career.
Knowing these and being able to communicate them well is what will make other people want to support you. If they can see where your passion lies, and where your energy is focused, you’ll pique their interest and – hopefully – their desire to help you achieve those goals.
4) Take any rejection on the chin and follow up
Obviously not everybody you contact to is going to roll out the red carpet. They might be lukewarm or unhelpful in their response, or they may just not get back to you at all. But whatever the outcome, accept it with class and dignity. Don’t allow your ego to be insulted by their lack of time or interest, because it’s nothing personal. Instead, thank them graciously and sincerely, and leave a good impression that way.
It also doesn’t hurt to ask whether they know anyone else who might make a suitable mentor. Often, people will feel guilty about saying no, and will still want to be helpful (without it taking up too much of their own time) by passing on your contact details to someone else who might be able to help you.
The main thing to remember is this: you won’t know until you’ve asked. Don’t wait for board mentors to come to you, because you’ll be waiting for a very long time. But once you start building your network, you’ll find it grows and expands organically as your career progresses.
So, now you know how to build a better network of mentors. But do you have everything else you need to be a successful director? Take our quick five minute test to find out!