At very least, establishing a relationship with a mentor is an adventure and an opportunity for growth and enlightenment. It can represent a great step forward for your farm. But, as always, it’s best to know how to get what you want.
Finding a mentor can come through predictable channels such as having a mentor assigned through a mentorship program, asking someone you know or know of, hearing them speak or reading their work, following them on social media or having them recommended to you.
Many times, however, the art of discovery is quite random. You’re just in the right space at the right time and somehow recognizing deep inside you that you want this person on your team.
Country Guide asked me: Then what? After you have identified a potential mentor, how do you approach them? How do you make a pitch? What behaviours do you model? And more importantly, when you do find your mentor, how do you get family or teams on board?
They are all good questions.
The first sign that the person might be the right mentor for you is that they resonate with you — often in a deep and emotional way. It helps if they understand the business you are in but it is not a deal breaker. The journey with a mentor is personal and focused on your growth with the outcomes as secondary.
Mentoring is in a different category than coaching or managing. Mentoring is about your inner self and your values and beliefs, while coaching, training and managing focus on solutions or your behaviour.
In saying this, it is important to know what you are asking for. Truthfully, first encounters are often business questions.
Here’s the question I often ask potential mentees: “Are you ready for this?” A good mentor will recognize your needs — a great mentor will take you on the ride of your life. Looking back on mentorship, many mentees comment on how quickly they progressed while profiting personally and professionally.
I consulted with governance expert Jane Halford, who explains it is “how you show up” that matters. This is a reflection on why you care and why it is important that others do too.
How should you show up?
Show up with a genuine interest in transition and do not expect your mentor to provide instant solutions. Be authentic; this has to be your priority when you approach a potential mentor, and it takes some courage. It is important, Halford says, to communicate why this is important to you.
You may feel uneasy, in which case simply ask for some time with the mentor. Respectfully ask what works for them and mentally prepare for that formal discussion.
If you have approached the potential mentor in a public setting then extend an invitation to have a meeting at a time that works for them later. If approaching them in a private setting where there is time for a conversation, be prepared for tough questions right out of the gate. You may get asked: Tell me about yourself. Why is this important to you? Who does this affect?
Be genuine in your responses. A good mentor will smell a fabricated answer immediately and lose interest just as fast. Behaviours such as sugar coating, exaggerations, making false claims or casting blame on other parties are indications that you are not ready for the conversation.
Our respect for ourselves is mirrored visually — the way we groom, move, sit, how we form our questions. The man with hands in pockets, covered in dirt and smelling like the barn who wanted help selling meat was not a candidate, but the young man who was groomed, who stretched out his hand to introduce himself and who respectfully asked for a meeting was. Similarly, the young woman who was telling the mentor the solutions for her life and wanted an outside party to validate them was not ready, but the woman who quietly said “I am having trouble navigating this complex world of agricultural management” was joyfully mentored.
Being mentored means being vulnerable. The best advice is to “start where you are” in your conversation with a potential mentor. Although history gets us to a point in life, it is not as relevant as where you are. A good mentor will pull in the past information they need while helping with vision, but the starting point is the moment you ask.
When introducing yourself, simply state who you are and a short invitation. For example: “My name is Taylor and what you said really resonated with me today. I am mid-career as a food producer with a large family at home and at a point in my life where I would appreciate a mentor. Would you have time to talk about this with me?”
A mentor will expose you to places that are profoundly reflective and that may result in changes in your behaviour or business goals, things folks around you will notice. As a mentee you are the steward of your vision but your mentor helps you define that reality.
Complex relationships are part of our human development. In most cases, but not all, it is critical that your family or team is aware you are being mentored and that they are asked to support you on this journey.
Nelson Mandela urged that our choices reflect our hopes, not our fears, and in this we remember that a mentor allows us to deeply experience all that is possible.
Take stock of where you are today and share that respectfully and authentically with a potential mentor. That is the first and hardest step. Be aware of how you show up by being visually and mentally prepared for your introduction.
Most importantly, be genuine. Let your mentor see your desire for learning and growth. That is the reason for the entire exercise.